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The head of Instagram announced on September 27, 2021 that the company is pausing plans for a version of the platform created for children ages 12 and under. (Photo: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Child Advocates Celebrate 'Pause' But Push for Permanent End to Instagram for Kids

"Today is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children's well-being should come before Big Tech's profits."

Jessica Corbett

Critics of Instagram and its plan to create a version of the photo- and video-sharing platform for children ages 12 and under celebrated Monday's announcement that the project is "on pause" while calling for the company to "permanently pull the plug."

"We won't stop pressuring Facebook until they permanently pull the plug on IG Youth and take real steps to make their platform safer for teens."
—Josh Golin, Fairplay

Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook-owned Instagram, confirmed the move on NBC's "TODAY" after months of pressure from child development experts and advocates, members of Congress, state attorneys general, and parents as well as recent reporting by The Wall Street Journal that has increased scrutiny on how Instagram impacts teenagers.

"Six months ago, when word leaked that Facebook was planning a kids' version of Instagram, it was assumed the project was a done deal because Facebook usually does whatever it wants. But we knew the stakes were too high," said Fairplay executive director Josh Golin in a statement.

"So, we organized parents, advocates, experts, regulators, and lawmakers to pressure Facebook to scrap its plans," he explained. "Today is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children's well-being should come before Big Tech's profits. We commend Facebook for listening to the many voices who have loudly and consistently told them that Instagram Youth will result in significant harms to children."

Golin, whose group was previously known as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, added that "we urge Facebook to use this 'pause' to actually engage with the independent child development experts who understand how Instagram Youth will undermine young children's well-being."

"We also call on Facebook to immediately release its internal research that shows Instagram is harmful to teens," he said. "We won't stop pressuring Facebook until they permanently pull the plug on IG Youth and take real steps to make their platform safer for teens."

Mosseri made clear that the company still intends to continue the project—first revealed in March—saying Monday that "I still firmly believe that it's a good thing to build a version of Instagram that's designed to be safe for tweens, but we want to take the time to talk to parents and researchers and safety experts and get to more consensus about how to move forward."

Just before Mosseri explained the pause decision on national television, Facebook—which acquired Instagram in 2012—published another rebuttal to the Journal's characterization of the company's internal research, noting that Facebook's global head of safety, Antigone Davis, is set to appear before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Facebook and Instagram both officially require users to be at least 13 years old—a restriction that traces back to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—but young people often lie about their birthdays to create accounts on these and other platforms.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who spearheaded COPPA in the U.S. House of Representatives more than two decades ago, is among the lawmakers who have slammed plans for an Instagram for children. Responding to the pause on Twitter Monday, Markey said that "Facebook must completely abandon this project."

Others reiterated critiques of Facebook and Instagram while also calling for building an Internet that is safer for children.

"Instagram Kids is/was a bad idea because Facebook's surveillance capitalist business model is fundamentally toxic," said Fight for the Future director Evan Greer in a series of tweets Monday. "But the idea that teenagers should be denied access to social media is also bad. There are a lot of kids for whom the Internet is a lifeline. They deserve options."

"Kids deserve access to secure, transparent, non-exploitative social media and messaging that's not built on a model of harvesting their data and using it to manipulate them," said Greer. "And they deserve basic online rights including privacy and anonymity when necessary."

"Basically: let's not use kids as pawns in a push for sloppy and misguided policies that will do more harm than good (like poking holes in Section 230, undermining encryption, etc. etc.)," she added. "Let's envision the Internet we want to leave to our children's children, and fight for it."

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