RALEIGH – A bipartisan group of 44 attorneys general including North Carolina AG Josh Stein has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to drop company plans for a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.
“Launching a version of Instagram for young children is a terrible idea,” said Stein. “Facebook’s inability to stop the spread of disinformation, protect people’s personal information, and stop abuse provides no confidence that the company would be able to protect our young people online. I am particularly concerned about the impact even more social media at a younger age could have on our children’s emotional well-being. Keeping our kids safe is job one for all of us. That’s why I oppose Facebook’s ill-considered and dangerous move to allow young children on Instagram.”
Co-leading the letter with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Monday were the attorneys general of Nebraska, Tennessee, and Vermont. In addition to Stein, other attorneys general signing on were from Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The letter reads in part:
“The attorneys general urge Facebook to abandon these plans. Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account. Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms. The attorneys general have an interest in protecting our youngest citizens, and Facebook’s plans to create a platform where kids under the age of 13 are encouraged to share content online is contrary to that interest.”
The attorneys general in the letter said they are concerned about social media’s effects on the physical and emotional well-being of children, the potential for increased cyberbullying, possible vulnerability to online predators, and what they called Facebook’s “checkered record” in protecting children on its platforms.
Children under 13 are technically not allowed to use the Instagram app in its current form due to federal privacy regulations. But Facebook in March confirmed a report by Buzzfeed News, saying it is “exploring a parent-controlled experience” on Instagram.
Facebook says it ‘will make every effort to protect children’
“It’s shameful that Facebook is ignoring the very real threat that social media poses to the safety and well-being of young children in an attempt to profit off of a vulnerable segment of our population,” Healey said in a statement.
Facebook in a statement Monday said it is exploring Instagram for kids to give parents more control over what children who are already online are exposed to, will make every effort to protect children, and will not show advertising on the platform.
“We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates,” the company said. “We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.”
Facebook also pointed out that it is a founding sponsor of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, launched in March to study the effects of digital technology on kids’ “brains, bodies, and behaviors.”
The effort of the attorneys general is backed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
“Facebook faces a critical choice: will they plow ahead with their ill-conceived plan to ensnare young children, or will they listen to the growing chorus of parents, experts, advocates, lawmakers and regulators who are telling them that an Instagram kids’ site will undermine young children’s healthy development and right to privacy?” Executive Director Josh Golin said in a statement.
Facebook faced similar criticism in 2017 when it launched the Messenger Kids app, touted as a way for children to chat with family members and friends approved by parents.