Faced with hostile reactions after the revelations in the press, the Facebook management decided to suspend its “Instagram Kids” project.
The hiatus comes after weeks of widespread outrage, sparked by a Wall Street Journal article revealing that the social network’s management had been aware of the negative effects of its Instagram platform on young people’s mental health for months.
A version of the platform adapted to the little ones
In a blog post published on Monday, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri defends creating a version of the platform for children, although he acknowledges that it would take more time for it to see the light, by “working with parents, experts, legislators and regulators, to listen to their concerns and demonstrate the value and importance of this project for young teens online today. “
“We started this project to address a major problem seen in our industry: kids are getting younger and younger phones, lying about their age, and downloading apps that are targeted at people over 13. We strongly believe that it is better for parents to have the option of giving their children access to a version of Instagram designed for them, where parents can monitor and control their experience, rather than relying on the ability of ‘an app to verify the age of children who are too young to have an identity document ”, says the official.
“Detractors of Instagram Kids will see [cette suspension] in recognition that the project is a bad idea. This is not the case. The reality is that children are already online and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is much better for parents than the current situation, ”he argues. He added that YouTube and TikTok have versions of their apps for children under the age of 13, validating Instagram’s desire to create a platform for children.
Instagram and its harmful effects
Therefore, Facebook is far from having said its last word in this story. The company explains how the new parental controls that are being rolled out for teen (13+) accounts will work in “the next few months,” says Adam Mosseri. The latter questions the Wall Street Journal revelations that Facebook teams have been highlighting for months the negative impact of Instagram on the psychological health of its users, and particularly its young users.
“On several occasions, company researchers have found that Instagram is harmful to a significant percentage of them. [les jeunes utilisateurs], especially teenage girls. “We are making body image problems worse for one in three teenagers,” reads a slide from 2019, summarizing research on adolescent girls experiencing these problems, “Wall Street Journal reporters revealed.
So much information got out of hand by Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook’s head of research, for whom the famous American title has misinterpreted the results of investigations carried out by his teams. And to state on the contrary that Instagram has a positive effect on adolescents “in 11 of the 12 issues of well-being”.
An investigation in the shadows
Therefore, Facebook refers to this study and its presentation, but has not made it public. A spokesperson for the platform wrote about the matter on Twitter that the study was not made public because it would first be shared with Congress, ahead of a hearing this week on the issues teens face on the platform.
“We are evaluating how we can go public at any given time,” says Facebook’s Andy Stone. However, this statement raises other questions about the reasons that could push the company to hide the results of this investigation from the general public.
Over the years, dozens of studies have shown the detrimental effects of social media like Facebook and Instagram on teens and their self-perception. But the Wall Street Journal investigation especially stirred spirits, as it reveals that the company itself was aware of the impact of its platform on the psychological health of its users.
Facebook is not done with Instagram Kids
Part of the reason for creating Instagram Kids is that the current app was never designed for teens for Adam Mosseri. Instagram Kids, he says, “was never designed for young children, but rather for tweens (ages 10-12). You will need parental permission to register, there will be no advertising, and the content and features will be age appropriate. Parents will be able to control their children’s time in the app and monitor who can send them messages, who can follow them, and who they can follow. The list is long. “
However, he admitted that the controversy sparked by the Wall Street Journal article had made it difficult for the project to move forward. “The project leaked long before we knew what it would be. People fear the worst and we have few answers at this time. The recent WSJ report has expressed even greater concern. It is clear that we must dedicate more time to this issue ”, he argues via Twitter.
On his blog, Adam Mosseri writes that he does not “agree with the way the newspaper has reported” on this investigation, although he admits that it “raises a lot of questions.” He states that these results “mainly highlight problems”, but remember that many features have been created to remedy them.
While Instagram explained its decision on its blog, even members of Congress were not convinced by the project’s suspension. “Suspending Instagram Kids is not enough,” defends an American parliamentarian. “The program must be completely abolished. Facebook knows its toxicity to our children and it just doesn’t care. “