To have an Instagram account, you currently have to be at least thirteen years old. However, it appears that parent company Facebook is beginning to develop a version of its hugely popular social media app that would cater to kids from ages 6-12. Though the so-called “Instagram for kids” project is believed to be in “very early stages,” it begs the question: With older teenagers already suffering from depression and anxiety on social media, what impact will social media exposure mean to even younger children?
Starting Them Young
The concept of giving younger children access to a social media platform is not new to Facebook. In 2017, the company launched Messenger Kids. The app was promoted as a way for kids to converse or “message” with people approved by their parents. An extension of a parental account, Messenger Kids gives kids the ability to chat or video call with anyone on the list of approved accounts.
Facebook promised that apps geared toward kids would be free of ads and would not collect any data from the children using it. However, in 2019, Facebook came under fire when it was discovered that a design flaw allowed thousands of kids to enter group chats with individuals their parents did not approve of. Facebook resolved the issue by eliminating the group chats and fixing the bug, and Messenger Kids is still available.
It makes sense that the company would continue expanding to younger children on its Instagram app, which skews much younger than Facebook. According to Statista, the largest group of Instagram users are age 13-34, which accounts for about 37% of Instagram’s total audience.
While Facebook isn’t currently doing interviews about the new platform, it says expanding to a younger audience is a response to demand.
“Increasingly kids are asking their parents if they can join apps that help them keep up with their friends,” a spokesperson said to Parentology in a statement. “Right now there aren’t many options for parents, so we’re working on building additional products — like we did with Messenger Kids — that are suitable for kids, managed by parents. We’re exploring bringing a parent-controlled experience to Instagram to help kids keep up with their friends, discover new hobbies and interests, and more.”
Impact on Users
Critics of social media are concerned for child privacy and the impact using it may have on their social-emotional well-being.
“Facebook poses one of the biggest threats when it comes to children’s privacy,” said Rasha Abdul-Rahim, co-director of Amnesty Tech, an arm of the nonprofit Amnesty International. “Increasing safeguards for children online is paramount, but the fact remains that Facebook will be harvesting children’s data and profiting off their detailed profiles.” That said, because the app is geared toward children under 13 it will have to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is designed to protect the privacy of children using technology.
Beyond privacy, many child advocates are worried about the psychological impacts the use of social media may have on such young children. Studies have shown that social media use triggers the release of dopamine. This is the same chemical released when kids exercise, eat chocolate, use drugs, gamble, etcetera. This is part of what makes the use of social media seem somewhat habitual, and which can have adverse effects on kids.
Indeed, the first long-term study on social media use from Brigham Young University demonstrated that social media usage steadily increased from the age of 13 and was most potentially damaging to young girls. “Something about that specific social media use pattern is particularly harmful for young girls,” noted BYU professor Sarah Coyne, the lead author of the study.
The Instagram app geared toward younger kids is still in development. There is not definitive launch date as of this time.