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Is Social Media for Kids?

Earlier this month, an Instagram internal company post was made public revealing that the company is planning to create a platform for children under the age of thirteen. Currently, children under the age of thirteen are not allowed on Instagram however, Instagram knows that there plenty of younger children on the app who lied about their age to sign up.

Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of Product, wrote on an employee message board:

“I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list. We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.”

A few days prior to these reports, Instagram had published a blog post titled “Continuing to Make Instagram Safer for the Youngest Members of Our Community.” While this post did not reveal Instagram’s plans for a kid-focused platform, it outlined the following plans:

Supporting parents and teens with new resources, like a country-specific Parents' Guide made in collaboration with experts on youth mental health and internet safety

  • Improvements to understand users’ real ages

  • Restricting DMs between teens and adults they don’t follow

  • Prompting teens to be cautious about interactions in DMs through safety notices

  • Making it more difficult for adults to find and follow teens through “Suggested User” and public comment restrictions

  • Encouraging teens to make their accounts private through pop-ups and security notices

There have been countless studies on the harmful mental health effects of social media for children, including increased anxiety and depression.

Children and teenagers often attach self-worth to the amount of engagement their posts get - many going so far as to take down posts when they don’t feel there are enough “likes.” Because of this (as we talked about in our last blog post), Instagram has been testing removing the like count feature entirely. There are also obvious safety concerns for children on social media, including increased bullying and the risk of predators. Thus, the news of Instagram’s platform for children received plenty of backlash on social media and various media outlets.

Beyond safety concerns, Priya Kumar, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland who researches how social media affects families, was quoted in BuzzFeed News saying a version of Instagram for children is a way for Big Tech to teach children “that social connections exist to be monetized.” While social media has provided so much value in keeping connected with people all over the world, it can be damaging when we realize it teaches us the commodification of human connection, whether that be through company ad revenue or the number of likes one gets on their photo.

We see this in how children use Snapchat and are obsessed with keeping their “Snapstreaks” alive, with reports that this feature is keeping teens and children addicted to the app. A Snapstreak develops after users have been sending each other Snapchats for three or more days in a row. If one of the users fails to send the other a Snapchat within a 24hr period, you lose your streak. Teens have reported streaks going on for years and it can be devastating when all your hard work keeping your streak up is lost. One teen was even quoted saying, “I broke up with my boyfriend but we kept up our streak for a few more weeks. Once he broke the streak, I knew it was officially over. That day was so sad. It can really hurt when a streak ends.”

Instagram isn’t the first app to develop a kid-specific platform. YouTube launched YouTube Kids in 2015 and Facebook designed Messenger Kids in 2017. However, both platforms leave much to be desired by parents. YouTube Kids faces many concerns around what advertising children are being subjected to and while the app has a Parental Control feature, there have been many filtering issues that allow inappropriate videos to still be accessible. And Messenger Kids had a design flaw that allowed thousands of kids to enter chats with unauthorized strangers.

As we move into a more tech and social media-centered world, it will become harder to keep children offline completely. While we obviously love social media here at Local Social Media, many of us are also parents who hold the safety concerns deep in our hearts. We know that social media can do wonders for human connection and local businesses, but there are real dangers that lurk beneath the surface.

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