March 4, 2024

An international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups called Instagram Thursday to discard their plans to develop a version of the popular photo-sharing app for users under the age of 13.

Instagram is pushing for a separate kids app after years of complaints from legislators and parents that the platform is slow to identify underage users and protect them from sexual predators and bullying.

However, in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the executive director of Facebook – the company that owns the photo-sharing service – the nonprofit groups warned that a children’s version of Instagram would not alleviate such problems. While 10- to 12-year-olds with Instagram accounts probably wouldn’t switch to a “babyish version” of the app, younger students could be locked into endless routines of scrolling and shame about body images.

“While collecting valuable family data and caring for a new generation of Instagram users can be beneficial to the bottom line of Facebook,” the groups led by the Boston Center for an Ad-Free Childhood said in the letter to Mr. Zuckerberg: “It will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”

The Africa Digital Rights’ Hub in Ghana is part of the coalition of non-profit groups; the Australian Council on Children and the Media; the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington; Common Sense Media in San Francisco; the Consumer Federation of America; and the 5Rights Foundation in the UK.

Stephanie Otway, a Facebook spokeswoman, said Instagram is in the early stages of developing a service for children to keep the under-13s away from its main platform. Although Instagram requires a minimum of 13 users, many younger kids have lied about their ages in order to set up accounts.

Ms. Otway said the company would not display ads on Instagram products designed for children under the age of 13 and that it intends to consult child health and safety experts about the project. Instagram is also working on new age verification methods to catch younger users trying to tell lies about their age, she said.

“The reality is that children are online,” said Ms. Otway. “They want to connect, have fun, and learn with their family and friends, and we want to help them do so in a safe and age-appropriate manner.”