In 2015, YouTube launched YouTube Kids, an app built containing content specifically designed for children. Google launched this platform to help parents rest easy in the knowledge that their children could spend time on YouTube unsupervised whilst staying safe. The initial announcement said that “this is the first step toward reimagining YouTube for families, but with your help, the app will continue to get better over time.”
Following suit, Facebook launched Messenger for Kids (for those under 13) that began its roll out in 2017. The platform was launched to create a messaging service for kids that had to be linked to a parents’ account so that they could approve who their children talk to. Although Facebook never monetized this platform, it was their first step into building platforms specifically for children.
But now, Facebook has said they will be launching Instagram Kids, another site specifically designed for children. At the moment, the age minimum on the app is 13 years old – although there is a general acceptance that children can lie about their age in order to gain access to some social media platforms, so the idea is that launching an app specifically for them, will help combat this issue.
In an employee announcement, Instagram stated that with this platform “[they would] 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.”
This didn’t go down well with the U.S. Congressional Hearing last week where Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter were asked to address questions around misinformation being spread on their platforms. Mark Zuckerberg seemed to echo the above idea that the idea behind launching this platform was to protect children who use Instagram anyway.
But the reality is that Instagram isn’t a safe space for children. A study by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health published a ‘league table’ of the impact of social media on mental health and Instagram came out the worst for wear. This isn’t surprising when there have been many a headline over recent years about celebrities altering their photos to the point of not even looking like themselves anymore. With such high societal expectations, there is no wonder there is a worry about what impact a more open exposure to Instagram will have on young minds.
And although Facebook is unlikely to be monetizing the platform (for now, at least!), there is an argument about whether this is the right move for Facebook. We for one will be watching closely to see what they announce on how they intend to tackle mental health issues surrounding Instagram and how they will be protecting children in the day-to-day use of the app.
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