Attorney generals from over 40 states and territories are trying to stop Facebook from making our kids addicts by creating a version of Instagram for kids. National Association of Attorney Generals directed a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, citing various mental distress social media potentially inflict on younger children, including addiction, among other things.
In a story covered by CBS News, the National Association of Attorney Generals urges Facebook to abandon its plans on developing and launching an Instagram version for children under 13, listing a myriad of potential hazards this new platform could pose to young children. For the time being, Instagram has a minimum age requirement of 13 to create an account, following the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) from 1998, which restricts websites from tracking data on children younger than 13. For that reason, almost all internet apps don’t want kids younger than 13 to join or access the apps’ functions.
However, the new app would allow kids under 13 to make an account and join social media, while the company promised to refrain from showing online advertisements to children. According to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook (which acquired Instagram in 2012), the new social media platform would be highly beneficial. He expressed his personal opinion on the matter, stating that collective learning about different content can be broadly beneficial. However, he did acknowledge parental control and supervision issues on such platforms, explaining how those issues are being worked out and resolved.
Facebook, as a company, defended its plans stating that the kids are already online and that the new app will provide parents with complete insight, visibility, and control over their kids’ online experience. One of Facebook’s spokespersons disclosed how the company develops the controversial app in full cooperation with experts in child development, child safety, and mental health advocates. However, the National Association of General Attorneys disagrees with Facebook and its CEO, citing numerous studies and cases that clearly link increased social media usage with increased mental health issues, especially in children, teens, and young adults.
The overuse of social media indeed mirrors addiction, and deprivation from connected devices and social media apps may cause anxiety in teens and young adults. However, children are far more susceptible and too young to successfully navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including inappropriate content or predatory individuals who can hide their identity online. The “fear of missing out” can cause a compulsive need to check the notifications and other content on their social media to make sure they’re up-to-date and not isolated and disconnected from the world.
Additionally, kids equate the number of likes and followers with status with a quantifiable scale. A low number of likes/followers equates to inferior status and ridicule, while a higher number of likes/followers equates to higher status and popularity. This can potentially lead to many mental issues, like low self-esteem, overconfidence, and many others. It would seem that Facebook is creating a need, instead of responding to one, with an app that appeals primarily to children who otherwise don’t have access to social media. Is the announced app the solution for all parents’ fear of their child being online, or will the future generations refer to themselves as “The Army of Berg”? Hopefully, none, if attorney generals manage to stop Facebook from turning the young ones into addicts.