SACRAMENTO, May 10, 2021 – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a multistate coalition urging Facebook to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a coalition of 43 attorneys general cited research showing that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children. For example, an annual survey tracking the activity of 5.4 million children showed Instagram was frequently flagged for suicidal thoughts, depression, and body image concerns. The letter also cites reports of cyberbullying and child predators using Instagram’s platform to target children, and notes that Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.
“Social media can help connect us, but it comes with risks – especially for kids who are ill-equipped to navigate its challenges,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The influence of Facebook and Instagram is hard enough for adults to contend with, we must be extra cautious when encouraging children under 13 to share content online. We don’t need a new platform targeted exclusively at children just because Facebook wants to tap a new market. Let’s cherish the time that kids can be kids without becoming hooked on social media.”
At a March 2021 Congressional hearing, Zuckerberg defended the use of social media among children, arguing that, “the research we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect to other people can have health benefits” and that passively scrolling Instagram posts “isn’t necessarily negative” to wellbeing. In today’s letter, the coalition cites a study that found that the amount of time girls spend looking at Facebook photos is “significantly correlated with weight dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, thin ideal internalization, and self-objectification.” Other research shows that frequently viewing selfies leads to “decreased self-esteem” and “decreased life satisfaction.
Social media can also attract child predators disguised as children. Facebook and Instagram recorded over 20 million instances of child sexual exploitation in 2020. These included images of child sexual abuse, child sex trafficking, and online enticement. Facebook also has a weak track record for protecting children. In 2019, Facebook was forced to alert thousands of parents that a technical error in its Messenger Kids app had allowed their children to join group chats with strangers who were not approved by the children’s parents.
Attorney General Bonta has an interest in protecting California’s youngest residents. In submitting the letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Nebraska, Tennessee, Vermont, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, 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, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico.
A copy of the letter can be found here.