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States Call On Facebook To Stop Plans For An Instagram For Kids


A bipartisan group of 44 attorneys general is telling Facebook to scrap its plans for an Instagram for kids. They're worried about children's safety, privacy, their mental health. Facebook says even though kids under the age of 13 aren't supposed to sign up for the photo sharing app now, many still do. So it wants to build a version just for them. NPR's Shannon Bond has been following this story. We should note, Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters. Shannon, explain the argument the AGs are making.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Well, they lay them out in - their concerns - in this letter they wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And basically they're saying children are just not equipped to navigate the challenges of social media, so things like knowing what's appropriate to share, who can see what they share. They listed fears about cyberbullying and exposure to online predators. And they pointed to research suggesting that use of social media could be connected with things like depression, lower self-esteem, body image concerns. Remember, you know, Instagram is a visual platform. It's full of selfies. And these AGs aren't the only ones concerned. Child safety groups and members of Congress have also raised alarm about this idea.

MARTIN: So, I mean, why would Facebook even go down this road in the first place?

BOND: I mean, bluntly, Rachel, they see demand for this product. So as you said, Facebook's rules prohibit kids under 13 from signing up. You have to put in a birth year when you sign up. The company says it kicks people off if it finds out that they misrepresented their age. But even Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged at a congressional hearing back in March, some kids do lie about their age to use these apps.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: We worry that kids may find ways to try to lie and evade some of our systems. But if we create a safe system that has appropriate parent controls, then we might be able to get people into using that instead.

MARTIN: So he's trying to frame this as Facebook doing the responsible thing instead of just making Facebook or making Instagram more difficult for kids to get on in the first place.

BOND: Yeah. I mean, I think it is fair to sort of see Facebook's framing of this as kind of pragmatic. They're saying, you know, kids are already online. Let's give parents better ability to monitor what they're doing with this app that they're talking about as being called Instagram Youth. Now, in a statement in response to the AG's letter, specifically, Facebook says it's working with child safety and privacy experts. It's pledged not to show ads in any version of Instagram for under 13s. But look, even without ads, this is still important to Facebook's business. This is their next generation of users and building something to get them into this world of apps owned by Facebook.

MARTIN: Right. So are critics of this idea, are they concerned about the kids more or are they just concerned about Facebook's overreach?

BOND: I think it's both. So, you know, the AGs in their letter also says Facebook just does not have a good track record when it comes to protecting kids. The company has another app for kids. It's called Messenger Kids for messaging. And they cited, you know, these news reports recently, you know, in the past few years about a design flaw that allowed children to evade parental controls and join group chats with strangers. This question of what impact social media has on kids' health and well-being is something both Republicans and Democrats have zeroed in on when questioning Facebook executives. This really is a bipartisan issue that's seen as a real sore point for the company. And companies like Facebook or YouTube, which has a YouTube Kids app, you know, their argument is that technology is, you know, has ups and downs, but it ultimately is something that can help people connect and learn. That is not sitting easy with either Congress or state regulators, as we're seeing.

MARTIN: Right. And just because kids want something doesn't mean they should get it.

BOND: Wise words.

MARTIN: NPR's Shannon Bond, thank you, appreciate you.

BOND: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOLOTO'S "PRIMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.