NJ asks Facebook to abandon ‘harmful’ tween version of Instagram
The daunting task of curbing social media interaction among children is the focus of a new effort by the state Attorney General's Office.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has joined 43 other counterparts across the country, asking Facebook to abandon plans for a new version of Instagram specifically aimed at users 13 and younger, similar in scope to the company's Messenger Kids app.
That app, which had been online since 2017, soared in popularity as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold a year ago, with families pushed into lockdown looking for ways to keep kids interacting with peers in a somewhat controlled social media setting.
"Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account," the letter co-signed by Grewal and other attorneys general said.
The letter also brings up the risks of adult users gaining access through glitches in such social media platforms, even when parental permission is required for connecting other accounts, as had been confirmed by Facebook in 2019, as reported by the Verge. The glitch was promptly fixed, according to Facebook.
Unaddressed is how many households already have knowingly permitted children younger than the recommended age to use the current version of Instagram, among other social media.
Nearly 1 in 5 parents of a child 11 or younger (17%) said that their child has their own smartphone, in a Pew Research Center survey taken in March 2020.
In the same survey, about 13% of parents said their child was already using TikTok and 10% said their child used Snapchat, while 5% said their child used Instagram. All three social media platforms have a supposed age requirement of 13, as called for by the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
For kids ages 9 through 11, the use of TikTok increased in the Pew survey, to three-in-ten.
As of this past fall, Snapchat was the most popular social media app among teens, followed by TikTok and then Instagram, according to MarketingCharts.com. The average age among app users was 15.
More than 20 million child sexual abuse images were reported in 2020 by Facebook on its platform — including Instagram, according to the National Council for Missing and Exploited Children.
The plea for Facebook not to launch the tween-targeted version of Instagram also points to a BBC report that shows a high number of child predators had used Instagram to groom child victims in 2018.
Cyberbullying also has been voiced as a major concern by Grewal and his fellow attorneys general, citing a 2017 survey in which 42% of young Instagram users reported experiencing cyberbullying on the platform.
Children younger than 12 were more likely to use social media if the child already had their own smartphone, according to parents surveyed by Pew Research last spring, as 42% of kids with a phone used TikTok and 31% already used Snapchat.
"We’ve just started exploring a version of Instagram for kids that is age-appropriate and managed by parents in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates," a spokesperson for Facebook said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5, adding that the company was committed to not showing ads in any Instagram experience for kids younger than 13.
The state Division of Consumer Affairs, which operates under the Office of the Attorney General, has some resources to raise awareness and promote internet safety education for children who have access to the internet at a young age.
"As part of New Jersey’s ongoing efforts to keep its children safe from internet predators and other online dangers, the Division maintains the 'Cyber Savvy Youth' outreach website aimed at teaching kids and teens the importance of protecting themselves and their data while online," a division spokesperson said to New Jersey 101.5, when asked about households already permitting children on social media.
The resources are available on the state's Cyber Savvy Youth website.