Yesterday, a bipartisan group of 44 attorney generals from around the country signed a public letter criticizing Facebook’s proposal for creating an Instagram version for under 13 years old. The letter is the latest development as Facebook faces backlash on their proposal, with several lawmakers already criticizing the move during a congressional hearing last March.
The letter states that the attempts by the company led by Zuckerberg called for these projects to be scrapped as it would be “detrimental to the health and wellbeing of children” while also highlighting that Facebook has previously shown a bad record at protecting “the welfare of children in its platforms”.
The attorney generals lay out their rationale by saying how studies have shown exposure to social media can be dangerous and harmful for the “physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children”, that children are not well equipped to handle the challenges that could come with having a social media account, and that Facebook has shown a proven “record of failing to protect the safety and privacy of children in its platform”.
Zuckerberg confirmed the existence of these plans at a congressional hearing in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce when he was asked directly by Congressman for Florida Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) about it. Bilirakis said he found it “very concerning” that Mr Zuckerberg had found a business case for creating a network targeting kids under 13 and asked Facebook’s CEO if he plans to “monetize our children by getting them addicted early”.
Zuckerberg confirmed that they are just “thinking through” this process as there is “clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would like to use a service like Instagram” and he said that while the service would allow kids to stay connected and discover content online, which he said is a net positive for kids while acknowledging the need to address some key concerns on the type of experience kids would have when using the social site.
Bilirakis quickly embraced the letter signed by the more than 40 AGs, posting a tweet where he said that protecting the welfare of America’s children is not a partisan issue and that he hopes that Facebook will abandon their plans to developing this new app.
A Facebook spokesperson talked to CNN business and responded to the concerns on their proposed child-exclusive social media app by saying that kids have access to social media already, and the company is only trying to “improve the situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing” and that the company is developing their proposed app in constant consultation with children welfare organizations while the company promised they will not show ads to kids under 13 who use Instagram.
Currently, Instagram only allows people over 13 to create an account on Instagram, however, is no secret that many people lie about their age when setting up an account on Instagram and as even Instagram accepts on their official website it is very difficult to confirm someone’s real age on the internet.
The row over Facebook’s projects is the newest row on the ongoing conflict between the government and big tech. With Republicans showing deep concerns over the capabilities of big social media companies to regulate the speech on the internet and how that could affect free speech in the country, while some Democrats also show concerns about the sheer size and power such companies have.
The public is also showing some growing mistrust towards big technological companies, with a Gallup poll showing that only 34% of Americans have positive views towards Big tech with 57% wanting the government to set more regulations aimed at big tech.
As Americans show less sympathy towards Big Tech and with both political parties having mistrust towards them, it is extremely likely that the government takes more actions against big tech, such as the lawsuit filed by the Treasury Department last year. If those attempts will be effective, however, remains an open question.