Facebook pauses Instagram Kids amids safety concerns from lawmakers, advocacy groups

The company still believes in the app, but lawmakers won't be happy until it's abandoned.
The company still believes in the app, but lawmakers won't be happy until it's abandoned. Photo credit: Getty Images

Instagram has hit pause on a new app it is creating for kids amid growing opposition for the project.

Instagram Kids had been touted as requiring parental permission to join, and was supposed to provide ad-free, age-appropriate content, but US lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged the social media giant to drop its launch plans, citing safety concerns.

"We won't stop pressuring [owners] Facebook until they permanently pull the plug," said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, an advocacy group focused on kids.

The photo-sharing service has been owned by Facebook since 2012.  

Instagram said in a blog post that building Instagram Kids was the right thing to do, but that it was pausing the work and would continue building on its parental supervision tools.

It also said it would give the company time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators and to listen to their concerns with a goal of demonstrating the value and importance of the project.

"The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today," Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram wrote, noting that there were app versions of YouTube and TikTok for those under 13.

"We firmly believe that it’s better for parents to have the option to give their children access to a version of Instagram that is designed for them - where parents can supervise and control their experience - than relying on an app's ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID," he wrote.

Four Democratic lawmakers including US Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal said they were pleased by Facebook's decision but said the pause "is insufficient."

"Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project," said the lawmakers, who also include US Representatives Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan.

New Zealand's non-profit online safety organisation Netsafe has published an Instagram guide for parents to better understand the app and help their children understand the impact of use.

It includes ensuring kids are taught the basics of online safety, setting expectations on behaviour and usage, setting a good example and making sure they understand their posts leave a long-lasting 'digital footprint'.

In 2017, Facebook had launched the standalone Messenger Kids app, an instant messaging platform for children under the age of 13, which is controlled by a parent's Facebook account.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published a report that focused on data suggesting that Instagram had a harmful effect on teenagers, particularly teen girls, and that Facebook had made minimal efforts to address the issue.

Facebook said that the report is "not accurate."