In an internal announcement on Thursday, Facebook Inc. let its employees know that it is building an ‘under-13’ version of the image-sharing social media tool Instagram. This move from Facebook is seen as an effort to market its products to the upcoming generation of internet users. The announcement comes in light of Instagram’s Vice President of Product Vishal Shah’s post on an internal message board for employees.
“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. 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’s post read.
Facebook had acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 amid fears of competition with other tech giants like Twitter and Google. Since then, Instagram has been the premier photo-sharing social media app, boasting about 1 billion users. Instagram is uniquely popular with teenage internet users, despite Instagram policy prohibiting any children under the age of 13 from using the platform.
This announcement comes following Instagram’s publication of a blog post three days ago, titled “Continuing to Make Instagram Safer for the Youngest Members of Our Community.” This blog post details Instagram’s plans to make the social media site safer for Instagram’s younger users. However, this post makes no mention of Instagram’s plans for building a new under-13 version of the platform. Some of these methods include Instagram blocking adults from sending Direct Messages to anyone aged below 18 who does not follow them, alerts from Instagram to underage users in order to caution them about interactions with adults etc.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Adam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram said that “more and more kids” want to use social media apps like Instagram and creating a version of Instagram for kids where parents have control is “part of the solution”.
Throwback to ‘Messenger Kids’
This is not the first time Facebook Inc. will create a product exclusively for kids. In 2017, Facebook launched Messenger Kids, a product aimed at children between the ages of 6 to 12. Messenger Kids includes many parental control measures ensuring the safety of children. However, Messenger Kids has endured its fair share of criticism.
After the launch of Messenger Kids, a group of more than 95 organizations and individuals concerned with children’s health sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to discontinue the product. In their letter, the group cites research saying, “excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”
In 2019, there were reports of a bug that allowed underage Messenger Kids users to chat with adults their parents had not approved of. The bug allowed the underage users to interact with unapproved adults through the group chat feature. No clear reason for the existence of this bug was found. This particular incident raises serious concerns regarding the safety of children of such “kids only” social media websites going forward.