More than 180,000 people have signed a series of petitions this month calling on Facebook to back down from its plan to create a version of Instagram specifically for children under age 13. The petition drive comes as Facebook faces a massive backlash of opposition to its plans in advance of the company’s annual shareholder meeting on May 26.
In recent weeks, Facebook’s plan to build a version of Instagram for children has been denounced by members of Congress, federal regulators, 44 state attorneys general and more than 100 advocates and experts.
If Facebook insists on moving forward despite such widespread opposition, it would be further evidence that the company considers itself unaccountable to policymakers and the public, and needs to be broken up through antitrust enforcement.
In March, the company’s plans for Instagram Kids were made public by Buzzfeed, which obtained internal company posts about its intention to make “youth work as a priority for Instagram.”
“We will not allow Instagram to use young children as pawns in its war with TikTok for market share,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Teens and even adults on Instagram struggle with the never-ending focus on appearance, the relentless fear of missing out, promotion of influencer culture, and the pressure to collect likes. Instagram for young children is among the greediest, most tone-deaf and wrong-headed ideas ever to emerge from Silicon Valley.”
“Facebook’s plan for an Instagram for Kids is like Big Tobacco selling ‘child-friendly’ cigarettes – a cynical ploy to hook in users as early as possible that serves nobody’s interests except Mark Zuckerberg’s,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, Executive Director of SumOfUs. “Facebook knows the damage Instagram is already doing to children’s health, self esteem and safety. If they are still pressing forward, we need governments to step in and protect our kids from this blatant attempt to wring more dollars from the most vulnerable.”
As a recent study from THORN demonstrated, Facebook has failed to keep kids under 13 off its platforms – and when kids do use Facebook and Instagram – the company has failed to keep them safe. The study found that 16% of children using Instagram had an online sexual interaction on the platform – tied with Snapchat for the highest rate among any platform included in the study. Rather than enforcing its rules and removing kids under 13 from this risky platform, Facebook plans to usher more of them, at even younger ages, onto Instagram.
“Facebook and Instagram have become the new homes for hate in this age of tech and social media,” said Bridget Todd, Communications Director at UltraViolet. “The idea of exposing children to this level of vitriol and toxicity, with the impossible expectation of parental supervision at all times, will have dangerous consequences. Our children deserve a childhood free from the grips of social media platforms and the harms they bring to kids. Facebook should be focusing its energy on addressing the real harms that already exist on its platforms, not on creating new harms for children, in the name of profit.”
“Big Social’s business model is damaging to our mental health,” said Julia Hoppock, Impact Producer for The Social Dilemma. Facebook’s plan to create an Instagram for Kids is out of touch, dangerous, and proves once again that when left unregulated, Big Social will choose profits over people every time. It’s time to put our kids first.”
“Facebook has demonstrated repeatedly that it prioritizes corporate profits over the well-being of its users,” said Josh Nelson, Co-Founder of The Juggernaut Project. “The last thing a company with such a dismal track record on privacy, disinformation and keeping kids safe should be doing is building a product specifically designed to target young children.”
The petition from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood can be found here. The petition from SumOfUs can be found here. The joint petition from The Juggernaut Project, ParentsTogether Action, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Other98, Consumers United for Fairness, Demand Progress, Daily Kos, Collective Shout, Progress America, Accountable Tech, Free Speech for People, OD Action and UltraViolet can be found here.
Additional quotes from parents who signed Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s petition can be found below.
The Juggernaut Project is a rapidly growing movement of regular people coming together to fight for progressive change.
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is the leading nonprofit organization committed to helping children thrive in an increasingly commercialized, screen-obsessed culture, and the only organization dedicated to ending marketing to children.
SumOfUs is a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations.
UltraViolet is a community of one million people that drives feminist cultural and political change. Through people power and strategic advocacy, we work to improve the lives of women and girls of all identities and backgrounds, and all people impacted by sexism, by dismantling discrimination and creating a cost for sexism.
Comments from parents who signed the petition:
“Developing an Instagram for kids is just another example of social media companies putting profit over people. For the last decade, we have watched the negative impact of social media on teens. I question the ethics of a company that would addict children at an earlier age while risking their social development and mental health. Once these products become the social norm for how kids communicate, it becomes extremely difficult for parents to rein it in.”
Kristin Bride, who has filed suit against Snapchat, Yolo, and LMK for the role they played in the death of her son in 2020 by suicide, after he was subjected to cyberbullying on their platforms.
“Children need and deserve to be protected as special and unique members of our society. They are not adults, cannot regulate their emotions fully for many years, cannot separate reality from fantasy for many years, and are highly susceptible to manipulation. Parents need the power to curate screen content responsibly, but Instagram and the like thwart that effort due to the algorithms and innate functions of the various social media platforms. We don’t need this added stress and harassment.”
“I’m against the development of Instagram for kids because, as a user of Instagram myself, I am aware of the intentionally addictive design of the platform. As a mom of three, I set limits on how much time I spend using social media. Getting used to using this platform at a young age paves the way for earlier dependence on social media. In light of the pandemic’s widespread impact on the lives of children and families, I am discouraged by the predatory approach that Facebook is taking by proceeding with this project.”
“As both parent and child care professional, I am totally opposed to any move to make social media more readily available to children and young people. There is a vast body of independent research which shows that the use of any digital media can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of all of us, with children being especially vulnerable due to their immature neurobiology and the psychological challenges associated with managing online interactions. Children need real play, with real people, and lots of time being physically active outdoors. They do not need another excuse to live their young lives through a digital filter.”
Julia Whitaker, Registered Health Play Specialist and co-author of “Play for Health Across the Lifespan”
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood educates the public about commercialism’s impact on kid’s wellbeing and advocates for the end of child-targeted marketing. CCFC organizes parents to hold corporations accountable for their marketing practices, advocates for policies to protect kids, and works with parents and professionals to reduce children’s screen time. www.commercialfreechildhood.org