Ed Markey, Lori Trahan Say No To Instagram For Pre-Teens

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/05/20/ed-markey-lori-trahan-say-no-to-instagram-for-pre-teens/

Facebook wants to start a version of Instagram designed specifically for children, and a pair of Massachusetts lawmakers are among a group of Congressmen who don’t like the idea.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, has plans to create a version of the photo-sharing app that children under 13 can use, according to several reports over the past couple of months. Currently, 13 years old is the minimum age to use both Facebook and Instagram.

The lawmakers, including U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Malden) and U.S. Representative Lori Trahan (D-Westford), put out a joint statement on the matter on Tuesday this week. They called for Facebook to drop its plans and for them to not develop an Instagram for pre-teens.

“Facebook has a clear record of failing to protect children on its platforms,” they wrote, according to Markey’s web site. “In its response to our recent letter, the company refused to make meaningful commitments about how it will ensure that its proposed Instagram Kids app does not harm young users’ mental health and threaten their privacy. When it comes to putting people before profits, Facebook has forfeited the benefit of the doubt, and we strongly urge Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for kids.”

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D-Florida) also signed the anti-Facebook statement.

In recent years, Facebook Messenger has been used by child sex abusers to get in touch with minors and spread child pornography. Of the 18.4 million reports of “child sexual abuse material” across the world in 2018, nearly 12 million were sent through Facebook, according to a 2019 New York Times report.

Public health experts have also weighed in on the matter, opposing Facebook’s idea.

One example:  Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, said that the situation for children online has become worse amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“During the pandemic, I have heard countless stories from parents of elementary-aged children about high-drama and problematic interactions happening over social media that kids weren’t developmentally ready for,” Radesky said in a statement released by Commercial Free Childhood last month. “An Instagram for kids is the last thing they need. Facebook and Instagram need to have some humility about the fact that they do not fully understand the nuances of child development and the needs of young minds.”

Kathryn Montgomery, professor emerita at American University’s School of Communication and senior strategist at the Center for Digital Democracy, said profit is the reason why Facebook wants the app.

“Facebook claims that creating an ‘Instagram for kids’ will help keep them safe on the platform,” Montgomery said in the same press release. “But the company’s real goal is to expand its lucrative and highly profitable Instagram franchise to an even younger demographic, introducing children to a powerful commercialized social media environment that poses serious threats to their privacy, health, and wellbeing. Given its failures to protect the public from disinformation, hate speech, and manipulation, parents cannot trust Facebook’s promises to protect young children.”

If Facebook goes through with its plan, the company says it will not sell ads on the web site, according to Digiday.

Even if Facebook doesn’t make money off this particular app, however, James Steyer, founder and chief executive officer of Common Sense Media, says Facebook has a long-term strategy to profit off these users.

“Facebook has gone back to their old bag of tricks, coming up with another product designed to get kids hooked when they are at their most vulnerable,” Steyer wrote in the same statement. “While tweens online deserve safe and protected environments, Facebook and Instagram have zero credibility and have proven time and time again that their priority is profiting off their manipulative and addictive tactics to keep users scrolling. What Mark Zuckerberg should do instead of targeting young customers is take the billions of dollars Facebook reaps every year from amplifying harmful content and instead invest in making a healthy and privacy protective product for adults.”

A spokesman for Facebook couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.


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