A coalition of US state attorneys general initiated a probe on Meta’s Instagram app for its effects on children. The legal officers believe that the photo-sharing app specifically engages children and young adults. As a result, they are exposing children’s mental health and well-being to risks.
Instagram’s Effects On Children and Young Adults
New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a statement on behalf of the group. “Time and again, Mark Zuckerberg and the companies he runs have put profits over safety,” she said.
However, James said that their joint investigation “seeks to end that behavior. Our coalition will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to protect children and young adults” from the dangers of Instagram and other social media platforms.
In addition to New York, California, Texas, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, New Jersey and Vermont also joined the coalition.
Specifically, the group will investigate the techniques used by parent company Meta that boosts usage by children. In fact, the company announced earlier this year that they will launch an Instagram for Kids platform.
However, Meta (then Facebook) shelved the plan after a former employee leaked internal documents showing that the app caused harmful effects on children. In fact, Instagram use seems to harm teenage girls in particular.
Meta Disputes Allegations
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone disputed the accusations on Instagram’s effects on children. He said that the entire technology industry continues to face challenges protecting young people online.
“These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts. We continue to build new features to help people who might be dealing with negative social comparisons or body image issues,” he said.
Part of the leak showed revelations about the app’s effects on body image, sleep and anxiety. According to an internal Facebook study, 19% of US teens surveyed said Instagram made them feel worse.
In contrast, 41% said the app made them feel better. Meanwhile in the UK, 21% said Instagram made them feel worse. However, 33% said Instagram helped them feel better.
Instagram and Facebook Officially Doesn’t Allow Children to Create Accounts
Technically, both Facebook and Instagram do not allow users younger than 13 years to create accounts. According to the company, since kids lie about their age to get an account, they decided to create a version that’s safe for them. This is the reasoning behind their Instagram for Kids program that’s specifically for preteens.
Creating an account will require parental permission. In addition, it wouldn’t contain ads and would enforce age-appropriate policies and features.
Meta argued that this is a safer alternative. It will provide a legitimate bridge to eligibility for the full site. Last May, 44 states’ attorneys general urged Facebook to drop the Instagram Youth plans.
‘Enough is Enough’
In a separate statement, California Attorney General Rob Bonta wants none of it. “For too long, Meta has ignored the havoc that Instagram is wreaking on the mental health and well-being of our children and teens. Enough is enough.”
Meta wanted the kids project in order to get younger audiences to its platforms earlier. The number of young adults with accounts continues to decline by 2% since 2019.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last month that the company will expand its services to appeal to those ages 18 to 29.
Watch the NBC Bay Area’s video reporting that state Attorneys General investigating Instagram over effects on children:
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