Facebook has come under pressure for trying to create a product that will put underage people within its reach. By getting them to become users, the social media giant will have for itself an open door to target them with advertisements.
The product is an Instagram app for children. In a letter to the company, attorney generals representing 44 states in the US asked it to pull the plug on the app.
The letter reads in part, “As recently articulated by dozens of organizations and experts, ‘Instagram…exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval to encourage children and teens to constantly check their devices and share photos with their followers and ‘the platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing.”
The major challenge that Facebook faces is that of a past record that shows that it does not prioritize the privacy and safety of its users.
In March 2018, the company came under fire following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm and it was accused of assessing the private data of 50 million Facebook users ahead of the US presidential elections. The number was later reviewed to 87 million profiles.
Afterwards, a data breach that exposed the data of 533 million Facebook users was reported by Business Insider. It contained details such as phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birthdates and email addresses from users across 106 countries.
The data captured are among those that do not change for a user, therefore, it remains valuable to hackers or predators who come across it.
Besides the data breaches, Facebook’s targeted advertisement business and its practice of exploiting user data have put it in a badly-coloured light with the public.
In 2020, the company came under fire for allowing hateful and misleading content on its Facebook platform. Coca Cola, Unilever and Microsoft are some of the companies that paused advertising on Facebook for some time following the accusation.
This is not the social media giant’s first attempt at pulling underage users into its nest. It launched Messenger for Kids in 2017 and some parents have been complaining ever since. In 2018, more than 100 child experts called for Facebook to pull down the children’s version of Messenger.
The experts said that children simply are “not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users.”
In their letter to Mark Zuckerberg expressing their disapproval of Instagram for Kids, the attorneys general expressed a similar sentiment. The letter says that young children are not equipped to handle the range of challenges that come with having an Instagram account. “Children do not have a developed understanding of privacy,” it partly reads.
The letter also mentions the unhealthy impact that social media has on young children in the areas of self-esteem, mental health, depression, weight dissatisfaction and others. Research links exposure to social media with harmful behaviours in young underage users.
Although it went ahead with Messenger Kids in 2017 and the app is still available, Instagram for Kids may meet with stiffer resistance this time around. This is because Facebook has only succeeded in gaining a barrage of bad publicity in the past few years over data privacy and harmful content online.
The opposition from different levels of government as well as the various antitrust battles it is encumbered in may be enough to force the big tech company back on its tracks from launching Instagram Kids.
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