TOPEKA – (May 10, 2021) – Plans for a children’s version of Facebook’s Instagram social media platform raises serious concerns about the safety and well-being of children and the growing harm of a toxic social media environment, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.
Schmidt joined a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The coalition contends that social media can be detrimental to children for myriad reasons and that Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms. Facebook is planning the new platform aimed at children under the age of 13.
In their letter, the attorneys general express concerns over Facebook’s proposal, including research that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children; rapidly worsening concerns about cyberbullying on Instagram; use of the platform by predators to target children; Facebook’s checkered record in protecting the welfare of children on its platforms; and children’s lack of capacity to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including advertising, inappropriate content and relationships with strangers.
At a Congressional hearing in March, Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that social media is harmful to children, despite strong data and research that has shown a link between young people’s use of social media and an increase in mental distress, self-injurious behavior and suicidality. Instagram has been frequently flagged for increasing suicidal ideation, depression and body image concerns in children.
Additionally, the attorneys general argue, young children are not equipped to handle the many challenges that come with having an Instagram account, including that they often lack a developed understanding of privacy. There is also a risk that predators may exploit children online and cloak their identities using the anonymity of the internet.
The attorneys general also cast doubt on Facebook’s ability to protect children on their proposed Instagram platform and comply with relevant privacy laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). They point out that the company has a record of failing to protect the safety and privacy of children. For instance, Facebook’s Messenger Kids app contained a glitch that allowed children to circumvent restrictions and join group chats with strangers.
To assist parents in protecting their children in online activities, Schmidt’s office provides free resources for internet safety for children and teenagers at https://ag.ks.gov/public-safety/internet-safety. The information includes tips for monitoring online activities and filtering harmful content.
A copy of the attorney generals’ letter to Facebook can be found at https://bit.ly/3vUf2uv.