Democrats press Facebook on plans for Instagram for kids

Democrats told Facebook on Monday they have concerns about the platform’s plans for an Instagram for children over the company’s “past failures” to protect kids on platforms aimed at youth users. 

“Facebook has a record of failing to protect children’s privacy and safety, casting serious doubt on its ability to do so on a version of Instagram that is marketed to children,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

The letter, signed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), asked Facebook to detail its reported model for a children’s version of Instagram. 

The Democrats press Facebook over concerns about children’s safety in regards to health, well being and data privacy. 

For example, the lawmakers ask Facebook if it will commit that any platforms it launches for children will be “completely free of targeted advertising.” They also ask if Facebook will commit to any platform it launches for children to be free of “like” buttons and beauty filters. 

“Should Facebook fail to provide adequate responses to the questions above or otherwise fail to demonstrate that a future version of Instagram for children would meet the highest standards of user protection, we would advise you to abandon your plans to launch this new platform,” the Democrats wrote. 

Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old to make an account, but Facebook has acknowledged that young users sometimes lie about their date of birth in creating an account. 

“The National PTA found that 81 percent of parents reported their children started using social media between the ages of 8 and 13. If we can encourage kids to use an experience that is age-appropriate and managed by parents, we think that’s far better than kids using apps that weren’t designed for them,” Stephanie Otway, a Facebook spokesperson, said in response to the letter. “This is in addition to our ongoing work to keep underage users off Instagram.”

The Democrats said that if Facebook’s goal is to decrease the number of users under the age of 13 on Instagram, the proposal for an alternative “may do more harm than good.” 

A Facebook spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. 

Earlier this month a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill that the company was “exploring bringing a parent-controlled experience to Instagram to help kids keep up with their friends, discover new hobbies and interests, and more.”

The statement was shared after BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook is building a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13, citing a message from Instagram’s vice president of product, Vishal Shah, on an employee board. 

Facebook is facing pressure on its handling of content aimed at kids from both sides of the aisle. 

Last week, four Republicans, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), sent a letter to Facebook, as well as Twitter and Google, for information on the impact their products have on children’s mental health. 

They pressed for information on the impact of the products on those under the age of 12, as well as those between 13 and 18.

Updated at 4:11 p.m.

Tags Big tech Cathy McMorris Rodgers Ed Markey Facebook Instagram Kathy Castor Lori Trahan Mark Zuckerberg Social media

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