Instagram, But For Kids?
Isadora Teich wrote this article
Big tech companies have the ability to influence lives, change culture, and create and destroy industries. However, at the end of the day, they are companies, which means that their ultimate goal is to increase profits.
Facebook’s latest idea, a kid-friendly version of Instagram, makes sense from a business standpoint for several reasons.
However, it has been heavily criticized.
Let’s take a look at exactly what Facebook means by “Instagram for kids,” how it would work, and why this has been a pretty polarizing announcement.
What Exactly Is Facebook Working On?
Facebook has recently confirmed that they are working on an Instagram-like platform for children under 13. In order to make it kid-friendly, it would be free of targeted advertising and more closely monitored for inappropriate and harmful content.
Keep in mind, that this is not the first kid-friendly platform offering from Facebook.
In 2017, they released Messenger Kids, which is considered a safer alternative to the original Facebook messenger. In fact, the new kid-friendly Instagram may potentially borrow some features from it.
Messenger Kids is targeted at kids between the ages of 6 and 12 and gives parents a lot of control that they would not have on other social media platforms. Parents can monitor their kids’ friends lists and set controls, for example. It also offers fun filters and other features to make it more engaging for kids to use.
Why Create A Kid-Friendly Instagram?
There are a few big reasons why Facebook would be interested in this.
For one, while there are many amazing benefits of social media, it can also be a hostile and dangerous environment. This is especially true for young kids.
If you want to learn more about the dangers that kids are facing on social media from strangers, and even occasionally the internet celebrities that they may follow, and how Facebook is trying to address them, take a look at our blog post.
Even though many sites have age minimum requirements, many kids are lying and using them anyway.
Who else has been clicking that they are 13 or 18 to access things they shouldn’t online since they were in elementary school?
If kids are going to be doing this anyway, it just makes sense to have a monitored platform built for their protection.
Instagram For Kids Could Be A Good Business Move
It’s no secret that Facebook itself is not incredibly popular amongst Gen-Z.
Data from Piper Sandler shows that less than half of US teens have a Facebook account. Also, only 2% consider it their favorite app. Keep in mind that Facebook is nowhere near on its way out.
It has 1.8 billion daily users around the world and almost 70% of American adults have used it.While it is an incredibly strong (and growing) company, its flagship offering is just not as popular with younger people. Click To Tweet
Once everyone is using it, you run out of new users to attract. Some experts are starting to wonder how close we are to complete saturation, or if we are already there.
Ignoring all ethical considerations, getting people to start using social media apps as young as possible is a smart move for a corporation. It means more lifelong users. It is one way to grow.
Josh Golin, executive director at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit that aims to limit the impact of commercial culture on children told SP Global:
“I’m sure that Facebook will spin this as one of the ways of them addressing their underage users on the main Instagram platform. But I don’t think that’s what this is really about.”
In the digital news cycle, it is common to see even established sources react to things with hysteria sometimes. Every time Facebook, a corporate entity, makes any public decision, you will see someone somewhere publishing something that reacts to it as if it were the monologue of a Star Wars villain.
While I think that is quite extreme, this announcement did raise some questions for me, many of which were echoed by experts. For example:
If so many kids are already on regular Instagram, why would they make the switch?
Think about it.
Many kids love breaking rules and many of them desperately want to be regarded as more mature. They reject things that they consider childish or appear to give their parents more control of them.
If countless children are already operating on Instagram without their parents’ consent, and lack the maturity to understand the dangers of that, why would they want to give that up and switch over to an app that lets their parents monitor them?
The Ethics Of Marketing Social Media To Children
Many pediatricians recommend that parents avoid giving smartphones to kids under 13.
If kids under 13 should not even have a phone in the first place, is it entirely ethical to start aiming social media apps at kids as young as 6 years old?
Should kids that young be exposed to intentional social media use at all, even with heavy parental control?
However, even though it may not be healthy, a whole generation of kids are now growing up on iPads and scrolling on TikTok.
While the medical community has its recommendations, those are not always the reality.
In reality, kids are growing up on apps and social media whether we like it or not. In this case, does it not make sense for companies to try and tailor their offerings to kids and try to protect them?
Both Democrats and Republicans are not a fan of this idea, with concerns being expressed by a wide variety of public officials.
This is definitely a tricky ethical question without a clear answer. On April 5th, a group of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Zuckerberg asking a range of questions, including how this platform will collect and manage data on its child users.
At the March congressional hearing where House lawmakers interrogated the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google about their roles in the capital attack and general misinformation, Republican congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida grilled Zuckerberg on this new app.
He asked: “Given the free services, how exactly will you be making money? Or, are you trying to monetize our children, too, and get them addicted early?”
Here is another tricky ethical question.
When you say it directly, profiting off of children sounds wrong. However, whole industries have been profiting off of children for hundreds of years.
No one ever called Mattel unethical for advertising barbies during the commercials between kids’ shows, for example. Everything and everyone in our society is monetized, which is a whole other debate.
A Complicated Issue
While Facebook has a history of massive issues, including misusing user data on a wide scale and letting domestic terrorists slide under the radar, it is also important to understand that many government officials are not equipped to understand what they legislate on, and the US government as a whole is struggling to apply and use tech.
At the recent hearing, PA Democratic Rep Mike Doyle castigated these companies: “The power of this technology is awesome and terrifying, and each of you has failed to protect your users and the world from the worst consequences of your creations.”
The Washington Post reports that the House lawmakers tried to limit Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Pinchai to simple yes or no answers.
As you have seen, even in this post, many of these questions relating to how tech can be used ethically in society are an absolute migraine to address.
A simple yes or no does absolutely nothing for either side.
Ultimately, is it ethical to market social media apps to kids?
Does the fact that so many kids lie about their age and put themselves in danger using social media apps mean that companies owe it to their users to find a solution? Could this new app be a suitable fix?
What do you think?
Talk to me.
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