Of all the anxiety-inducing products that Facebook has announced over the past year, Instagram Kids has received the most pushback. Families just aren’t comfortable letting kids 13 and younger on social media, despite Facebook’s bizarre insistence that Instagram is good for kids. Now, as Facebook deals with a bombshell leak, it’s putting Instagram Kids on the back burner.
We’ve spent the last few decades grappling with TV’s negative impact on body image, but social media could be much more harmful to our children. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok provide endless opportunities for kids to compare themselves with adult influencers, who are often promoted by app moderators for fitting beauty standards. And even if kids are only on social media to talk with friends, they may encounter a barrage of AR filters that “beautify” the shape, color, and texture of their face.
Still, we were shocked when the Wall Street Journal published internal Facebook data linking Instagram use to body image issues in teenage girls. Facebook’s research shows that Instagram makes “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” and that Instagram is a “toxic” force in children’s lives.
Not only that, but “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” And Facebook did not push teens to give these answers—“This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups,” the company states in leaked slideshows regarding the issue.
Facebook responded to the Wall Street Journal’s leaked report in a blog post yesterday, September 26th. The post is repetitive and rambling, but it centers around one claim—“Instagram helps [teens] when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.”
Facebook says that Instagram helps teenage girls overcome “loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues,” and that the Wall Street Journal cherry-picked its evidence from a 12-page to suggest that Instagram creates body image issues in kids. We can’t verify this claim, as Facebook has not released its 12-page slideshow to the public. (Though this slideshow has been submitted to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee for a hearing on Thursday, October 2nd.)
Just one day after publishing its defensive blog post, Facebook says it’s pausing development of Instagram Kids. The company will focus on optional parental supervision tools for teenagers in the meantime. Still, Facebook says “we believe building Instagram Kids is the right thing to do.”
We will probably learn about Facebook’s internal research on Thursday, when the company is set to attend a Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the subject. In the meantime, I suggest reading the Journal’s new Facebook Files series, which documents how the company gives preferential treatment to high-profile users, encourages anger on its platform, and ignores employee concerns when lives are at stake.