Will children be safe on a massively popular photo and short video-sharing app like Instagram? Facebook certainly thinks so.
Last week, Buzzfeed News reported obtaining an internal company memo sent out by Instagram executives announcing that parent company, Facebook, is working on a newer version of the app for tweens and children under 13 years old. The current Instagram platform has a minimum age requirement of 13.
Instagram’s vice president of product, Vishal Shah, spoke about plans in the works regarding the new initiative in a Facebook post addressed to 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 also added that Instagram would be working to improve privacy and safety for its teen users.
Corroborating the statement with Facebook, Mashable too, reported that the new kid-friendly Instagram would be a “parent-controlled experience.”
A spokesperson from Facebook said, “Increasingly, kids are asking their parents if they can join apps that help them keep up with their friends.”
“Right now there aren’t many options for parents, so we’re working on building additional products — like we did with Messenger Kids — that are suitable for kids, managed by parents. We’re exploring bringing a parent-controlled experience to Instagram to help kids keep up with their friends, discover new hobbies and interests, and more,” they added.
As the BuzzFeed report rightfully points out, the initiative does have cause for concern considering how Instagram has had repeated issues with preventing teens from experiencing bullying or predatory behavior by adults on the platform, even after adding safety features over the years. Parent advocacy groups have already asked Facebook to discontinue its Messenger Kids product since social media has been shown to negatively impact child development.
With strict laws governing how advertisers and social networks can handle data obtained from children, Messenger Kids, as well as YouTube Kids, do not collect or target the same advertising data that the adult platforms do. However, what parent advocacy groups are worried about is that major social networking sites — even if kid-friendly — will most certainly act as pipelines that eventually groom children into mindless consumers. All it starts with is an innocent photo-sharing app. One that even Facebook couldn’t resist acquiring, eventually turning into an advertising giant, safely propped up by its empire.
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