Facebook Inc.-owned Instagram announced today that it’s pausing the development of a version of the app aimed at children.

For months now, Facebook has been drowned in a deluge of criticism for developing an Instagram app for children under the age of 13. That criticism has come from all sides, from child health experts to consumer advocacy groups to statewide attorneys general.

The reasons for the concern have much been the same, stating that young folks don’t need to be even more connected than they are already at a time when they need to be physically interacting with their peers. Such groups have cited research into how Instagram and other social media apps can lead to depression, bullying and self-harm.

Until now, Facebook has stood by the contention that if kids are going to go online anyway then it would be responsible to design an app for them that is safe. “We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety, and mental health, and privacy advocates,” Facebook said in May.

In a blog post today, Facebook stood by that stance but said in light of the concern that has been expressed, it’s going to pause development. The company reiterated that it’s better to have a safe app than kids going online and using a less safe app, which Facebook said they do anyway.

“Critics of ‘Instagram Kids’ will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea,” said the company. “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.”

Facebook might have gone ahead with the development had it not been for a scathing exposé by The Wall Street Journal that was published earlier this month. That article showed that Facebook knew from external research how Instagram was harmful in myriad ways for young people, but that knowledge might have been downplayed within the company.

Critics have said that no amount of safety features can change the fundamental aspects of an app in which people vie for admiration among their peers by posting images of themselves. The same critics have said that for the social media giant, the young people market is just another area where Facebook wants to expand.

Photo: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

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