Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Child advocates are alarmed by the possibility of an Instagram for children under age 13. (Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images)

Child advocates are alarmed by the possibility of an Instagram for children under age 13. (Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images)

'Deeply Concerning': Critics Decry Facebook Plan to Build Instagram for Kids 12 and Under

"Social media companies have a responsibility to protect children and young people online, but building a separate version of their platforms is not the answer."

Jessica Corbett

Parents, child advocates, and Big Tech critics are responding with alarm to BuzzFeed News' Thursday night reporting that Instagram, a photo-focused social network owned by Facebook, is planning to make a version for children under the age of 13—who are officially barred from both platforms but often able to access them anyway.

"If Instagram wants to do something for younger children, it should focus on getting under 13s off of the platform entirely."
—Josh Golin, CCFC

"It is deeply concerning that Instagram—a platform known for a host of troubling privacy, commercial, and design practices that undermine adolescents' well-being—is now setting its sights on even younger children," Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), told Common Dreams by email.

"If Instagram wants to do something for younger children," Golin added, "it should focus on getting under 13s off of the platform entirely."

Rasha Abdul-Rahim, co-director of Amnesty Tech, also expressed concern over the possibility of an Instagram designed specifically for kids.

"Facebook poses one of the biggest threats when it comes to children's privacy," Abdul-Rahim said. "Increasing safeguards for children online is paramount, but the fact remains that Facebook will be harvesting children's data and profiting off their detailed profiles."

"Social media companies have a responsibility to protect children and young people online, but building a separate version of their platforms is not the answer," Abdul-Rahim asserted. "Facebook's very business model is built on ubiquitous and constant—which is entirely incompatible with human rights. By making users sign up to the opaque terms and conditions of Instagram, Facebook will be able to harvest huge amounts of data about children and create invasive, granular profiles that can last the rest of their lives."

Even with an age-specific platform, she added, "children will remain at risk of being bombarded with targeted advertising and incendiary content designed to keep their attention above all else. They will be left at the mercy of Facebook's algorithms that all too often amplify disinformation and divisive content in order to prioritize engagement."

BuzzFeed obtained an announcement that Instagram's vice president of product, Vishal Shah, shared Thursday on an employee message board.

"I'm excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list," wrote Shah. "We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time."

Shah said that the work will be led by Facebook's Pavni Diwanji, who previously oversaw child-focused products at Google, including the controversial YouTube Kids. The internal announcement came two days after an Instagram blog post about protecting young people, which did not mention the new project.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, will oversee the work. He told BuzzFeed that the company does not yet have a "detailed plan" for development but knows that "more and more kids" want to use services like Instagram.

"We have to do a lot here," Mosseri said, "but part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control. It's one of the things we're exploring."

The age-13 restriction on Facebook and Instagram traces back to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). As the Wall Street Journal detailed in 2019:

COPPA passed by a wide margin in 1998 and went into effect in April 2000—four years before Facebook and seven years before the iPhone. To this day, rather than go through the laborious process of seeking parental consent, most websites, apps, and social media platforms simply state that users must be at least 13.

Companies that collect or disclose data from kids can face civil penalties of more than $42,000 per violation, but they're liable only if they have actual knowledge that the person is younger than 13, the [Federal Trade Commission] says. If a 13-year-old—or a younger child who lies about his age—uses general-audience apps and websites, his data can legally be collected and shared.

Tech giants have come under fire for their treatment of personal data—and Facebook specifically for its "surveillance-based business model." Some critics, such as World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee, argue for more user control. As Berners-Lee has said: "You should have complete control of your data. It's not oil. It's not a commodity."

An Instagram for the under-13 crowd would not be Facebook's first foray into services targeting children; in December 2017, Facebook launched Messenger Kids, which allows children under 13 to exchange text and video messages with individuals approved by their parents.

Dozens of advocacy groups, led by CCFC, responded to Messenger Kids with a letter (pdf) to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declaring that "at a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents' well-being, it is particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as preschoolers to start using a Facebook product."

"Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough," they added. "We ask that you do not use Facebook's enormous reach and influence to make it even harder."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists to BlackRock Vice Chairman: New Fossil Fuel Development 'Incompatible' With 1.5°C

"The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions."

Jessica Corbett ·

Goldman Prize Awarded to Activists Who Showed Nature's 'Amazing Capability to Regenerate'

"While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity."

Julia Conley ·

Faith Leaders Call for Federal Election Monitors in Georgia to Protect Black Voters

"It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Inaction Is Bought': Here Are the Receipts on NRA's Purchase of GOP

"The issue is money in politics," said Nina Turner after the nation's latest mass killing of students and teachers. Right-wing lawmakers are "allowing children to die because of the gun lobby."

Kenny Stancil ·

'This Is on You!' Beto Interrupts Abbott Press Conference on Texas Massacre

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke accused Texas' GOP leaders of "doing nothing and offering us nothing" in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo