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Why Facebook is holding off on kids' Instagram



Following pressure from lawmakers, critics, the media, and child development experts, Facebook announced Monday that it will "pause" its work on a children's version of its photo and video-focused Instagram app for the time being.


But it's not clear how seriously Facebook is taking the concerns of experts and parents at this point in time. Facebook's decision to only temporarily halt the project suggests that it still intends to expose a much younger audience to Instagram, its well-documented dangers, and possibly the user profiling that feeds Facebook's targeted advertising machine. Of course, that ad machine has helped the company become one of the most profitable businesses on the planet.


Why Is Facebook Acting In This Manner Right Now?


The company's decision comes in the wake of an explosive report published by The Wall Street Journal in mid-September, which found that Facebook knew from its own research that Instagram was harming some teens, particularly girls, and that it was leading to mental health and body image problems, as well as eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in some cases.


Despite this, Facebook has consistently downplayed the app's negative aspects and has continued to roll out the kids' version despite warnings from experts, legislators, and its own research until now. Moreover, it has relentlessly criticized the Journal article for cherry-picking from Facebook's research, despite the fact that it did not dispute the facts. That story, on the other hand, was based on internal research that was leaked by a whistleblower within the organization.


Perhaps it is not a coincidence that a panel of the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to examine the "toxic effects" of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram on young people. It is the latest in a series of hearings to determine whether or not Big Tech companies are concealing information about the harms their products are causing.


Is Insta For Kids No Longer Available?


No statement has been made by Facebook indicating that the project will be scrapped. According to a blog post published Monday by Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, the company will use its pause time "to collaborate with parents, experts, and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product."


Translation: Facebook is expected to sharpen its message on the "benefits" of Instagram for Kids in the hopes that the uproar will subside and the situation will be resolved.


Consider the fact that Facebook had already stated in July that it was working with parents, experts, and policymakers when it introduced safety measures for teens on its main Instagram platform that the company was working with them. In fact, the company has been "collaborating with" experts and other advisors on another product aimed at children — the Messenger Kids app, which was released in late 2017 and is available for download on iOS and Android devices.


According to Mosseri, "Critics of Instagram Kids' will interpret this as an admission that the project is a bad idea." "Unfortunately, that is not the case."


Who Are The Experts Who Are Working With Facebook?


When Facebook announced that it had assembled a group of experts in the fields of online safety, child development, and children's media four years ago, it said they were doing so to "share their expertise, research, and guidance." The Family Online Safety Institute, Digital Wellness Lab, MediaSmarts, Project Rockit, and the Cyberbullying Research Center are among the nonprofit organizations that make up the Youth Advisors group, which includes some well-known and some lesser-known organizations.


According to their websites, all of these organizations receive some form of financial support from Facebook. In contrast, some of the most well-known children's online advocacy groups — as well as some of Facebook's most vocal critics on the subject — such as Common Sense Media and Fairplay (formerly known as the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood) are conspicuously absent from the list.


The cooperative experts' critics acknowledge that many of them are well-intentioned, but they claim that their influence has been minimal. According to Kyle Taylor, program director for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group that is critical of the social network, "Facebook has demonstrated time and time again that it is incapable of governing or advising itself with any integrity." According to the report, "Facebook's funding of research and civil society is extremely problematic, as it prevents the kind of direct, open process that is required for any real change to take place."


The decks are always stacked in favor of experts who have a financial interest or who will never criticize Facebook's core issues - their algorithm and their profit margin, according to Taylor, when the social media giant seeks feedback for its projects.


Would it be possible for facebook to pull the plug?


Fairplay executive director Josh Golin believes that Instagram for Kids has already been drowned by the tides of public opinion. According to him, the "pause" is a good way for Facebook to save face and hope that after a while, people will forget about the incident altogether.


He acknowledges that his organization and other advocates were unsuccessful in their efforts to persuade Facebook to discontinue its kids' messaging product, but claims that Instagram for Kids is different.


The social media platform "Instagram is a significantly worse platform for children" than Messenger, he asserted, citing Facebook's internal research as well as a "wealth of evidence" to support his claim. Furthermore, the political climate has shifted since 2017 and 2018, when the "techlash" against Big Tech's negative effects on society was just getting started. It's now in full swing and much better organized than before. Finally, there's the issue of technological product inertia.


"With Messenger Kids, the backlash didn't begin until after the film had already been released," he explained. "It is much easier for a corporation to walk back a product that does not yet exist than it is for a corporation to remove a product from the market," says the author.


What About Other Platforms?


There are a number of other tech platforms whose products have sparked widespread concern about the well-being of children, and Facebook is certainly not the only one. In response to these concerns, many people have turned to creating children's versions of popular games. When TikTok got into trouble with US regulators for allegedly violating children's privacy rules in 2013, the company created a "limited, separate app experience" for users under the age of thirteen, according to the company. They are unable to upload videos, comment on other people's videos, or communicate with other users. Kids can, however, circumvent this restriction by entering a fictitious birthdate when registering with the app, just as they can with any other app.


YouTube has a children's version as well. Lawmakers referred to it as a "wasteland of vapid consumerist content" earlier this year, prompting them to launch an investigation that is still ongoing.

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