Eden Havel | News Editor
October 1, 2021
On March 18, 2021, Buzzfeed announced that Facebook would be launching a kid-friendly version of Instagram. As Instagram has tried to find ways to keep children under the age of 13 from using the app, CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided it was best to just make an app specifically for them–and lawmakers instantly spoke against it. They now urge Facebook to put a pause on its plans of building an Instagram app specifically for kids due to recent studies of its effects on teens.
A story published by the Wall Street Journal recently released information on exactly how harmful Instagram is, specifically to teenage girls. Experts describe having social media as “putting a number on popularity.” The dopamine released due to the number of likes, comments, and followers in teens creates an addictive factor, forcing them to witness stereotypes that affect their personal body image. The comparison of popularity and number of followers between their peers creates a level of insecurity that is mostly enforced by the impact of posts from friends and peers.
Mark Zuckerberg hopes that creating a new app with more parental controls and less freedom will at least ensure that they don’t suffer the same level of negativity as someone who uses the regular Instagram app.
Senator Ed Markey, Representative Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, and Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida sent a letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg about their concerns, imploring him to stop production on this new app due to these studies. The letter cites Zuckerberg’s testimony at a March House hearing where he spoke on the research of the effects of social media on children’s mental health, calling it “not conclusive.” Lawmakers, regulators, and parents criticize these plans for what they call Instagram Youth and have held their concerns since this past March when Buzzfeed first revealed the project. Nevertheless, company executives defend it, saying that children will just continue to use regular social media regardless of age limits and the impacts it has.
“I don’t think it’s healthy,” sophomore Sophie Rapeepat said. “Social media already has such a negative influence on people, and introducing kids to an app just like it will cause unnecessary exposure to things parents can’t control.”
A leaked internal Facebook conversation suggests that the company is fully aware of the risks present in teens, but is reluctant to make changes on the matter. On a slide presentation summarizing the company’s research, it reads, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” Another slide states that teens “blame” the app for higher rates of anxiety and depression. It altogether proved that not only is Facebook fully aware of some of its negative impacts, but they laugh about it and mock the situation in their meetings.
“Teens already have such a strong presence on the regular Instagram,” explains senior Max Silva. “I don’t think it even makes financial sense for the company to start a whole new ecosystem. [Creating an app for kids] won’t break regular bad habits on social media.”
Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, an advocacy group focused on kids, said, “We won’t stop pressuring Facebook until they permanently pull the plug.”
Still, Facebook is reportedly unconcerned about the reports on the data about the dangerousness of their app for teenagers. Lawmakers will continue to fight to find solutions to support teenagers on their mental health. The release of Instagram Youth is currently on pause until further notice.