Facebook announced on Monday that it would “pause” work on the children’s version of its photo and video-oriented Instagram app, succumbing to pressure from legislators, critics, the media and child development experts.
But what’s still unclear is how seriously Facebook takes the concerns of professionals and parents. The decision to simply suspend the project suggests planning to expose a much younger audience to Instagram, its well-documented harm, and perhaps user profiling to feed Facebook’s targeted advertising machines. I have. Of course, that advertising machine makes the company one of the most profitable on the planet.
Why is Facebook doing this now?
The company’s move, from Facebook’s own research, has caused Instagram to harm some people, especially girls, causing mental health and body image problems, and in some cases eating disorders and suicidal ideation. Following an explosive report in mid-September by the Wall Street Journal that Facebook knew it was.
But in public, Facebook has consistently downplayed the downsides of the app, and so far has been anticipating the children’s version, despite warnings from experts, lawmakers, and independent research. .. He did not disagree with the facts, but relentlessly criticized the journal article as cherry-picking from a Facebook survey. However, the story was based on an internal investigation leaked by a company whistleblower.
It’s no coincidence that a committee of the Senate Trade Commission will hold a hearing on Thursday to investigate the “toxic effects” of Facebook and Instagram on young people. Finding out if big tech companies are hiding what they know about the harm their products can do is the latest in some hearings.
So will Instagram for kids be canceled?
Facebook does not specifically say that it will abandon the project. Instead, Instagram director Adam Mosseri wrote in a blog post on Monday that the company used pauses to “work with parents, experts, and policy makers to show the value and need for this product. “.
Translation: I hope Facebook will sharpen the message about the “merits” of Instagram for Kids and reduce their anger.
Think of Facebook already saying it was working with parents, experts and policy makers in July when it introduced security measures for teens on its main Instagram platform. In fact, the company has “cooperated” with experts and other advisors on another children’s product, the Messenger Kids app, released in late 2017.
“Instagram Kids critics will see this as an admission that the project is a bad idea, it’s not,” Mosseri wrote.
Who are the professionals working on Facebook?
Four years ago, Facebook said it would “share expertise, research and guidance” by bringing together a group of experts in the areas of online safety, child development and children’s media. Groups called youth advisors include well-known and lesser-known nonprofits such as the Family Online Safety Institute, Digital Wellness Lab, MediaSmarts, Project Rockit, and Cyberbullying Research Center.
According to their website, all of these groups are somehow funded by Facebook. Meanwhile, some of the most well-known online advocacy groups for children, such as Common Sense Media and Fairplay (formerly known as the Commercial-Free Childhood campaign), and Facebook’s biggest critics on the issue are particularly absent. doing.
Critics admit that many co-operative experts have good intentions, but say their impact is negligible. Kyle Taylor, Program Director of Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group critical of social networks, said: “Facebook’s research and civil society funding are very problematic and hinder the kind of direct and open process needed for real change to happen.”
When Facebook asked for feedback on the project, Taylor added, “Decks are always full of experts who have financial interests or never criticize Facebook’s main issues of algorithms and rates of return.” ..
Can Facebook still pull the plug?
Fairplay executive director Josh Golin argues that Instagram for Kids may already be sinking under the waves. “Pause” is a good way to expect Facebook to save his face and forget it after a while, he said.
He admits that his group and other supporters didn’t pressure Facebook to cancel messaging products for kids, but Instagram for Kids says it’s not.
“Instagram is a much worse children’s platform than Messenger,” he said, citing Facebook’s own internal research and “rich evidence” to support this. The climate has changed since 2017 and 2018, when Big Tech’s “tech crash” against its negative impact on society began. Now it’s fully functional and much more organized. Finally, there is the inertia of high-tech products.
“In the case of Messenger Kids, the repulsion didn’t start until it had already happened,” he said. “”
What about other platforms?
Of course, Facebook isn’t the only technology platform whose products are causing ripples of concern about children’s well-being. And creating a children’s version in the face of these concerns is a popular reaction. For example, after having trouble with US regulators for violating children’s privacy rules, TikTok created a “limited personalized app experience” for users under the age of 13. They cannot share videos, comment on other people’s videos, or send messages to others. However, as with any app, you can bypass that requirement by entering a fake birthday when your child registers with the app.
There is also a kids version on YouTube. Earlier this year, legislators called it a “wasteland of wasted consumer content” and began an ongoing investigation.
AP technology writer Tali Arbel contributed to this story.
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Why Facebook Postpones Instagram for Kids
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