Facebook has halted work on its Instagram Kids project after revelations about the photo-sharing app’s impact on teen mental health.
Instagram said it was “pausing” work to address concerns raised by parents, experts and regulators. The move follows revelations in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that Facebook had commissioned research showing Instagram could affect girls’ mental health on issues such as body image and self-esteem.
The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, defended the concept of an Instagram site for 10- to 12-year-olds and said he firmly believed children should be able to access a version of the app – which bars under-13s – that was designed for them.
“While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project. This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today,” he wrote in a blogpost.
“Critics of ‘Instagram Kids’ will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case. The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”
Mosseri’s statement came one day after Facebook’s head of research issued a rebuttal of the WSJ revelations, which led to renewed criticism of the company from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Pratiti Raychoudhury said it was “simply not accurate” that the company’s research showed Instagram was toxic for teenage girls.
In one example, Raychoudhury said that out of 12 areas on a slide cited by the WSJ, body image was the only issue girls said was made worse by Instagram.
“This research, some of which relied on input from only 40 teens, was designed to inform internal conversations about teens’ most negative perceptions of Instagram. It did not measure causal relationships between Instagram and real-world issues,” Raychoudhury said.
Beeban Kidron, a crossbench peer and member of the joint committee on the draft online safety bill that seeks to improve user safety on social media, said: “It is a victory for child rights campaigners and lawmakers around the world that Instagram Kids has been paused – but it must not be interpreted as a battle won.
“At some point we have to ask, are Facebook simply too big to police their own products and services? Because, unless and until they can provide the service they promise they are not fit to be trusted with our kids.”
On Monday Facebook also attempted to assuage concerns about the company’s next big strategic shift, into the metaverse, or a virtual digital realm where people can lead their personal and professional lives.
The company announced a $50m (£37m) investment programme to ensure the metaverse was built responsibly”, with the money distributed among organisations and academic institutions such as Seoul National University and Women in Immersive Tech.
Speaking at the Atlantic festival, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs, said the metaverse would be built methodically and collaboratively between a wide range of participants.
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