EXPLAINER: Why Facebook is holding off on kids’ Instagram

Sep 27, 2021, 3:01 PM | Updated: Sep 28, 2021, 5:50 pm
FILE - This Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, file photo shows the Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobil...

FILE - This Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, file photo shows the Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobile device in New York. Bowing to pressure from lawmakers, critics, the media and child development experts, Facebook said Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, it will “pause" its work on a kids' version of its photo-oriented Instagram app. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Bowing — perhaps only for a moment — to pressure from lawmakers, critics, the media and child development experts, Facebook said Monday it will “pause” its work on a kids’ version of its photo and video-oriented Instagram app.

But what’s not yet clear is just how seriously Facebook is taking the concerns of experts and parents. Its decision to merely pause the project suggests it still plans to expose a much younger audience to Instagram, its well-documented harms and possibly the user profiling that feeds Facebook’s targeted ad machine. That ad machine, of course, has made the company one of the most profitable on the planet.

WHY IS FACEBOOK DOING THIS NOW?

The company’s move follows an explosive mid-September report by The Wall Street Journal that found Facebook knew from its own research that Instagram was harming some teens, especially girls, leading to mental health and body image problems and in some cases eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

In public, however, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative side and until now has barreled ahead with the kids’ version despite alarms from experts, lawmakers and its own research. It has also relentlessly criticized the Journal article as cherry-picking from Facebook’s research, though it did not dispute the facts. That story, however, was based on internal research leaked by a whistleblower at the company.

It’s likely not a coincidence that on Thursday, a panel of the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing examining the “toxic effects” of Facebook and Instagram on young people. It’s the latest of several hearings to look at whether Big Tech companies are hiding what they know about the harms their products cause.

SO IS INSTA FOR KIDS CANCELED?

Facebook has very specifically not said that it will abandon the project. Instead, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in a blog post Monday that the company will use its pause time “to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product.”

Translation: Expect Facebook to sharpen its message on the “benefits” of Instagram for Kids in hopes that the furor will die down.

Consider that Facebook had already said it was working with parents, experts and policymakers back in July when it introduced safety measures for teens on its main Instagram platform. In fact, the company has been “working with” experts and other advisors for another product aimed at children — its Messenger Kids app that launched in late 2017.

“Critics of Instagram Kids’ will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea,” Mosseri wrote. “That’s not the case.”

WHO ARE THE EXPERTS WORKING WITH FACEBOOK?

Four years ago, Facebook said it gathered a group of experts in the fields of online safety, child development and children’s media to “share their expertise, research and guidance.” The group it calls Youth Advisors include some well-known and some lesser-known nonprofit groups, including the Family Online Safety Institute, Digital Wellness Lab, MediaSmarts, Project Rockit and the Cyberbullying Research Center.

All of these groups receive some form of funding from Facebook, according to their websites. Meanwhile, some of the best-known children’s online advocacy groups — and Facebook’s biggest critics on this matter — such as Common Sense Media and Fairplay (formerly known as the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood) are notably absent.

Critics acknowledge that many of the cooperative experts mean well, but say their influence has been negligible. “Facebook has shown time and time again that it is incapable of governing or advising itself with any integrity,” said Kyle Taylor, program director for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group critical of the social network. “Facebook’s funding of research and civil society is hugely problematic, and prevents the kind of direct, open process that is required for any real change to occur.”

When Facebook seeks feedback for its projects, Taylor added, “the decks are always stacked with experts who have a financial interest or who will never criticize Facebook’s core issues – their algorithm and their profit margin.”

COULD FACEBOOK STILL PULL THE PLUG?

Fairplay executive director Josh Golin argues that Instagram for Kids may have already sunk beneath the waves. The “pause,”‘ he said, is a good way for Facebook to save face and hope that after a while people will forget about it.

He acknowledges that his group and other advocates failed to pressure Facebook into canceling its kids’ messaging product, but says Instagram for Kids is different.

“Instagram is a much much worse platform for children” than Messenger, he said, noting Facebook’s own internal research and a “wealth of evidence” supporting this point. The climate has also changed since 2017 and 2018, when the “techlash” against Big Tech’s harmful effects on society was just emerging. Now, it’s in full force and much more organized. Finally, there’s tech product inertia.

“With Messenger Kids, the backlash didn’t start until it had already came out,” he said. “It is much easier for a corporation to walk back a product that doesn’t yet exist than to take a product off the market,”

WHAT ABOUT OTHER PLATFORMS?

Facebook, of course, is not the only tech platform whose products have caused ripples of concern about the well-being of children. And creating kids’ versions in the face of these concerns is a popular response. After getting in trouble with U.S. regulators for violating children’s privacy rules, for instance, TikTok created a “limited, separate app experience” for users who are under 13. They can’t share videos, comment on other people’s videos or message people. But as with any other app, if kids enter a fake birthdate when they register with the app, they can get around that provision.

YouTube has a kids version too. Lawmakers earlier this year called it a “wasteland of vapid consumerist content” and launched an investigation that’s still ongoing.

AP Technology Writer Tali Arbel contributed to this story.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Unidentified gunmen attacked a police patrol overnight in northwest Pakistan, killing four before fleeing the scene, a police official said Wednesday. No group claimed responsibility for the attack in Lakki Marwat, a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. Police official Umar Khan said a search operation for the culprits […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 file photo, students wear mouth-to-nose coverings while sittin...
Associated Press

Germany to end national ‘epidemic’ situation next month

BERLIN (AP) — The German parliament will not extend the “epidemic situation of national scope” when it expires next month, but will keep in place certain measures to check the spread of the coronavirus, lawmakers said on Wednesday. Leading members of the country’s parliament, or Bundestag, said that although coronavirus infections have been rising again […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Deutsche Bank makes profit as recovery reduces bad loans

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Deutsche Bank saw its net profit increase 6%, to 329 million euros ($381 million), in the third quarter despite a sharp increase in restructuring costs. The bottom line at Germany’s largest bank benefited from fewer loans going bad as the economy rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic and credit support from governments […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Portuguese govt faces budget vote defeat; election likely

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s parliament was poised to reject Wednesday the minority Socialist government’s proposed state budget for 2022, a move that would likely trigger a snap election and put a brake on the country’s post-pandemic recovery plans. The moderate Socialists were deserted by their hard-left allies from the Communist Party and the Left […]
1 day ago
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., standing with other House Democrats, talks to reporters outside the W...
Associated Press

Democrats unveil billionaires’ tax as Biden plan takes shape

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pushing past skeptics, Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a new billionaires’ tax proposal, an entirely new entry in the tax code designed to help pay for President Joe Biden’s sweeping domestic policy package and edge his party closer to an overall agreement. The proposed tax would hit the gains of those with […]
1 day ago
FILE - This October 2021, photo provided by Pfizer shows kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in ...
Associated Press

FDA panel backs Pfizer’s low-dose COVID-19 vaccine for kids

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. moved a step closer to expanding COVID-19 vaccinations for millions more children as government advisers on Tuesday endorsed kid-size doses of Pfizer’s shots for 5- to 11-year-olds. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously, with one abstention, that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
EXPLAINER: Why Facebook is holding off on kids’ Instagram