Parents, politicians criticize Big Tech’s latest bad idea
Instagram for kids would do more harm than good, they say
The heart icon with a red notification badge on Instagram provides users with more than an update on how many people have liked their posts. It triggers a small dopamine boost that makes them want more. Marketing expert Brooke Shannon compares it to a “constant drip.”
“I don’t think that children are developmentally ready for the challenges” of moderating their social media use, said Shannon, who is also the executive director of Wait Until 8th, which encourages parents to keep smartphones from their adolescents until at least eighth grade.
When news got out earlier this year that Instagram was developing a platform for kids age 12 and younger, parents like Shannon joined with lawmakers and advocates to raise a red flag. Forty-four attorneys general of U.S. states and territories signed a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this May, asking him to hit the brakes. (Facebook owns Instagram, which only allows users ages 13 and up.) Four U.S. senators and members of Congress stated their concern in another letter to Zuckerberg. Pastors, parents, and advocacy groups like Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and SumOfUs also said this is a bad idea. They collected more than 180,000 signatures to protest the project.
Critics doubt that the platform’s design could actually protect children from inappropriate content and predators. Both noted the design flaw on Facebook’s Messenger Kids app that allowed children to contact users their parents had not approved. Members of Congress posed a series of questions asking whether the children’s Instagram will exclude marketing tools and addictive design elements such as push alerts that encourage users to spend more time on the app.
“A growing body of scholarship shows a link between young people’s use of social media (and the devices they use to access social media) and the ‘increase in mental distress, self-injurious behavior and suicidality among youth,’” the letter said, citing an article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The Royal Society for Public Health reported in 2017 that 70 percent of young social media users reported cyberbullying, and 90 percent of girls expressed unhappiness “with their bodies.” It rated Instagram the most negative social media platform for health and well-being—worse than YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat.
Dave Hinkley, a youth and children’s ministry director in East Lansing, Mich., said the anonymity of social media can lead to bad behavior. There’s a tendency or temptation to think that virtual sins aren’t sins, but to say things and do things online that you would not do in real life is sin, he said
Ben Falconer, a pastor in Bryn Mawr, Pa., has seen the negative effects of internet access on youth. He said that the smartphone is a servant or a tool, not a master. It takes discipline to use it as such and it should not trump the present. Shannon, a mother of three, said that many families give their children smartphones because they feel left out when that device is exactly what shows them they’re left out of friend groups or fun events.
Facebook defended its plans for an Instagram kids app by arguing that the new social media platform gives parents more control over their children’s social media use.
But Parents can have control over their children’s smartphone use in other ways, Shannon said. They can buy a flip phone or a Gabb phone, which is designed for kids, with no internet access. She said most parents don’t understand the risks until they’re in the middle of the battles caused by smartphone use: Important things like relationships and faith can get crowded out. Sellers of social media products want to make money, not protect children, she said.
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