Facebook announced in March 2021 that it would launch Instagram for children under the age of 13 to build their profile on the popular platform. The company claimed earlier that it would be a safe platform for kids and look for a parent-controlled experience. But now, Facebook is pausing its move to launch Instagram for Kids following the criticisms from various lawmakers and how it impacts teen girls and their mental health.
Announcement Follows Investigative Series By WSJ
In a post released by the Instagram head, Adam Mosseri says Pausing "Instagram Kids" and Building Parental Supervision Tools. " We believe Instagram kids is the right thing to do, but for now, we are pausing our work. We will use this time to work with experts, policymakers and parents to demonstrate the importance and need for this new product. We will continue to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens." he added, as reported by Indian Express.
The announcement comes in following an investigative series by the Wall Street Journal, which stated that Facebook is very much aware of the use of Instagram by some teenage girls, which led to mental health issues and anxiety. Two months later, after the announcement of the Instagram kids app in March, a bipartisan group of 44 attorney generals wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to stop the project, citing the well being of children. They cited increased cyber-bullying, possible vulnerability to online predators, and Facebook's "Checker Record" in protecting young children on its platform.
What is Wall Street Journal Report?
The WSJ investigative report is based on Facebooks's own internal research, which shows that Instagram is creating a negative effect on teenagers, especially in the case of teenage girls the app likely contributed to worsening body images issues, the report references one slide from Instagram research, which states that application made body image issues worsens for one in three girls, who were surveyed, in another slide teens blames the application in increasing depression and anxiety problems. 6% of American teens and 3% of British teens users, who were part of the research, reported suicidal thoughts and linked them to the app. Most Instagram users who said they felt unattractive found that these negative feelings began on this app, and some users even face eating disorders.
In response to the WSJ Investigative piece, Facebook's Vice-President and Head of Research, Pratiti Ray Choudhary, accused the publication of cherry-picking facts and figures. " Our research is part of our one of the efforts to maximize" the good and minimize the bad things on our platforms. That is why worst possible results are reflected highly in the internal slides," she wrote. For body issues statements by the users, she wrote that " 0n 11 of 12 well-being issues, teenage girls who said they struggle for various reasons also said that Instagram made them better from getting worse.
Facebook also claims that Instagram made lives for teens happier. It said that other areas like sadness, loneliness etc., made teenage girls feel better and happy. They even made public the slide that WSJ is referring to, adding that it was the only issue of body image for teen girls using Instagram, which made it worse compared to the other 11 areas. Facebook also claims that some aspects of the research regarding teens face anxiety and depression were based on inputs just from 40 teens. Given that the app has more than a billion users, it says that the responses of 40 users are not representative in any case at all. It should be noted that Facebook has not released all the data regarding the research on the app and its impacts on young audiences.
If we talk about overall, almost all social media applications are addictive, and they need to be controlled. Still, Instagram needs particular focus compared to other social media platforms because of its highly addictive nature.
Impact On Mental Health
One of the researchers told WSJ that 'Instagram is like a drug', and it needs to be studied carefully. Regarding body image issues, it is not only for young teens, and even adult females are greatly affected by this issue. The application was slammed by the UK's National Health Service (NHS), which wrote a letter to the organisation in May this year. The health agency called out the app and said they hadn't done enough to crack down 'Apetamin' promotions, a weight gain drug peddled by many influencers on the platform. This drug can cause serious side effects, including liver failure, which is often used by women who desire a curvy figure. While regarding Instagram said they have taken down the accounts selling this drug, and it is not very difficult to find and remove them.
Instagram is a place where people do not just post anything or everything, the best image is the most criteria to garland likes, so there is no doubt that Instagram gives importance to how you look when you post and how well you maintain your image, and for teens especially who try a lot harder to look good. This is precisely why the US Senate will question Facebook's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis and various other executives. They are slated to appear before the US Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Thursday on the issue of protecting kids online and mental health that teen faces on the famous platform.