A group of 44 attorneys general across, irrespective of their political leanings, has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to drop company plans for launching a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13, with parental controls. The letter emphasised that such a service would be "harmful for myriad reasons".
The attorneys general expressed concern about the physical and emotional well-being of children included cyberbullying, predatory adults, mental well-being, and Facebook's missteps on data protection and privacy and “checkered record" in protecting children on its platforms, said a statement released by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
"Not only is social media an influential tool that can be detrimental to children who are not of appropriate age, but this plan could place children directly in the paths of predators," James said. "There are too many concerns to let Facebook move forward with this ill-conceived idea, which is why we are calling on the company to abandon its launch of Instagram Kids," she added.
The plea echoed concerns expressed by advocates for children, who also urged Zuckerberg to scrap Instagram geared toward pre-teens. “It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account," said the letter, signed by the attorneys general of 40 states, the District of Columbia and three US territories.
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In 2017, Facebook faced a backlash when it launched the Messenger Kids app, touted as a way for children to chat with family members and friends approved by parents.
The attorneys general and advocates are not the only one protesting Facebook's latest move. In April, campaign for a 'Commercial-free Childhood' and the Electronic Privacy Information Center were among nearly 100 groups and individuals from North America, Europe, Africa and Australia to make the plea in a letter to Zuckerberg.
Children under 13 are technically not allowed to use the Instagram app in its current form due to federal privacy regulations. But Facebook in March confirmed that it is “exploring a parent-controlled experience” on Instagram. "The reality is that kids are online," said Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway. Instead of being detrimental, Facebook is working with child development and mental health experts to prioritize safety and privacy, Otway added.
Instagram, which has more than a billion users, recently unveiled technology aimed at preventing underage children from creating accounts and blocking adults from contacting young users they don't know. Facebook also highlighted sponsoring the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children's Hospital, launched in March, to study the effects of digital technology on kids' “brains, bodies, and behaviors."
The attorneys general are not convinced though. “It's shameful that Facebook is ignoring the very real threat that social media poses to the safety and well-being of young children in an attempt to profit off of a vulnerable segment of our population,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement.