Under 13 Instagram Paused for Now: Is Social Media for Kids a Good Idea?

Is social media for kids a good idea? Facebook thinks so. Parents, not so much.

5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Instagram under 13 paused: Should kids have social media access at a young age?</p></div>

On Monday, 29 September, internet giant Facebook Inc. announced that they were halting their plans to introduce a separate Instagram platform for pre-teens, dubbed Instagram kids.

The decision comes after the company faced push back from critics citing the damage that social media use does to young people, and that it would be a bad idea to introduce social media for even younger kids.

Facebook, however, maintains that the idea is a good one, and meant to promote the safety and wellbeing of young kids online.

What's all the fuss about? Is having a separate social media platform for kids the answer to tackling kids' safety online?

FIT speaks to Anurag Shukla, a research scholar at IIM Ahmedabad, whose research involves the intersection of technology, education, and its real-life implications, and Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava, parenting columnist, author of Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India's Teens, and a mother of 2 young girls.


What Was Facebook's Game Plan?

The brains up at Instagram's parent company, Facebook Inc. have been working on a long term business plan to tap the untapped demographic of preteens according to an exposé in the Wall Street Journal.

The concept itself is not a new one. YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok already have separate versions for kids, which position themselves as a way of making sure children are exposed to only kid friendly content on a platform that is otherwise free for all to upload whatever with few restrictions in place.

This is the argument that Facebook is also using to back their kids' platform for Instagram.

In a statement released by Instagram, they also said that Instagram kids,

  • Will require parental permission.

  • Will have age appropriate content

  • Won't have ads.

The plan, however, hasn't gone down well with critics of the move.

A petition launched by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, argues that kids in the age group who are already on Instagram (by violating the age restriction) are unlikely to switch to a "'babyish' version of the platform after they have experienced the real thing," and that Instagram kids would only put even younger kids at greater risk.

Speaking to FIT Anurag Shukla, mirrors these concerns.

“While there aren’t any particular benefits of having such a platform for kids, there is so much research backed downsides,” he says, adding, “They don’t necessarily have a plan. They just want children to be online because they’re looking at them as another potential market. What they are doing is commercialising their childhood.”

He goes on to talk about Facebook's past record of addressing safety and wellbeing concerns in young people that have been less than satisfactory.

"In 2020 alone, facebook and Instagram reported around 20 million cases of child sexual abuse. And yet, facebook has not come up with any credible answers when this issue was raised.”
Anurag Shukla, Research scholar, IIM Ahmedabad

SM for Kids: Yay or Nay?

The impact of social media on young people and their mental health has been widely studied and for most parts, it's not good.

Despite Facebook's reassurance that it is merely meant to give parents more control of their kids' social media, parents and critics are not convinced with the need for an Instagram for kids.

"Facebook has been exposed by the recent WSJ report that has only re-enforced what we all know unofficially- that IG is toxic for our teens," says Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava, parenting columnist, author of Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India's Teens, and a mother of 2 young girls.

"But despite that, FB is continuing with its IG for kids under 13 and that goes to show how our kids are at the mercy of big tech unaccountability, and it is really up to us to make sure we don’t fall for it," she adds.

"Gates, Steve Jobs and the likes never allowed their kids anywhere near it, it is not hard to wonder why."
Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava, author of Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India's Teens

Jyotsna has kept her own kids off social media for the same reason.

"My children are not on social media because through my book I have seen the dark side of it- the pressures on mental health, body shaming and cruel anonymity," she says.

Instagram has got a lot of bad press lately owing to the bullying and harassment faced by teens on the platform, which critics argue is much higher than on other platforms.

The article in The Wall Street Journal also speaks of internal studies conducted by Facebook that found the app triggered body image issues in young girls. The company, however, has refused to make this data public.

Facebook says that it has taken cognisance of this issue, and that Instagram kids is one of the ways they plan on countering it, along with a slew of new policies for their main platform.

They insist that Instagram Kids is not meant to encourage younger kids to start using social media platforms at an earlier age, and instead is a way to create an age appropriate experience for 10 to 12 year olds who are already online.

They are right, kids are already online, many of them, by transgressing age restrictions on social media sites meant for adults.

A Separate site, however, doesn't guarantee safety and wellbeing.

The issue here isn't just about how 'kid-friendly' the content is, argues Anurag Shukla.

"It is also a matter of public health concern and how it is going to harm children physically and mentally that has nothing to do with the kind of content they are privy to," he says.

"For instance, studies have shown how excessive time spent online is linked to higher instances of obesity, mental health issues, decreased quality of sleep, decreased happiness and an increased risk of depression among young people. I don’t know how Facebook is going to resolve all of these issues.”
Anurag Shukla, Research scholar, IIM Ahmedabad

“Even online learning websites in India, which are not social media platforms, have seen issues of child safety and child bullying," he adds.


The Kids Aren't Alright: What Can We Do?

With big corporations trying to push products to a younger and younger audience, Jyotsna believes it's up to the parents to set boundaries.

"Parents need to have some checks and balances in place. The later you push a child to get IG- in fact even a smartphone the better it is for them because things in cyber world are changing very fast and a young one will definitely be out of her depth," says Jyotsna.

"And yes, adults have to remember the children are watching them very closely and mimicking everything on social media," she adds.

Jyotsna also says, "parents need to understand social media because if they don’t know what their kids are against they will never be able to help their children."

Anurag Agrees.

"In India, a majority of the parents are not technologically savvy or aware of social media, while kids are a lot more social media friendly and familiar with the online world than their parents, which creates a gap," he says.

One way to bridge this gap, according to him, which will have to presuppose any policy or regulation is communication with parents.

Anurag says, “compared to the western countries, India is just catching up in terms of regulations of social media and navigating the online world.”

"If social media corporations spent more time engaging in dialogue with parents, teachers committees and other stakeholders of the society, some kind of regulations can come up that don't commercialise children and their childhood and put them at greater risk."
Anurag Shukla, Research scholar, IIM Ahmedabad

(Written with inputs from The Wall Street Journal.)

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