Ever since its launch back in 2010, Instagram has forbidden any child under the age of 13 from using the app. But now, Facebook, which bought the social media platform in 2012, is reportedly developing an Instagram 2.0 that specifically targets youths under that age threshold.
In an internal company post obtained by BuzzFeed News last month, Vishal Shah, Instagram’s director of product, cheerily declares that the company “will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.”
But don’t worry, folks, the new Insta will be run by parents. Considering the average parent is exhausted and overworked, claiming they have just 32 minutes to themselves every day, the idea that this new app will be continuously monitored by moms and dads is laughable. Furthermore, underage children are already getting onto social media without their parents’ consent. Today, the majority of young children own a cellphone by the age of 7, and most children develop habits by the age of 9 — and the results are sometimes disastrous. Earlier this month, a 12-year old boy died after taking part in a “blackout challenge” seen on TikTok.
Instagram’s plans to recruit a younger audience is especially worrying, considering it is one of the most popular sites for child predators. In 2019, an international group of human rights NGOs called Instagram a “predator’s paradise.” According to one report, members of the group “compiled an alarming dossier of grooming-style behaviors on the popular social media platform.” The researchers “discovered hundreds of predatory comments from men describing sexual acts they wanted to perform on underage girls, some as young as 7.”
Now, with plans to launch an Instagram solely dedicated to young children, the risk of predation is a real one. Extremely young children will be targeted.
And yet, Facebook is marketing the new Insta as an inclusive, caring environment for young children. According to its creators, who also developed YouTube Kids, the app “was created to give kids a more contained environment that makes it simpler and more fun for them to explore on their own, and easier for parents and caregivers to guide their journey.”
If Facebook really cared about children, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues would not be looking to create another “predator’s paradise.”
A coalition of public-health and child-safety experts has already urged Facebook to reconsider its plans to create this new platform. Young users, they fear, face “great risk.” And their concerns are clearly warranted.
Will Zuckerberg listen? Considering Facebook’s past sins, such as the harvesting of users’ private data and its unwillingness to keep the site free from hate speech and misinformation, it’s doubtful. What drives the company is a relentless appetite for growth and profit, and as TikTok’s audience quickly outpaces Instagram, it is hungry to recruit new members — the earlier the better.
Instagram 2.0 is simply a means of monetizing malleable young minds: Put a phone in children’s hands as early as possible, get them signed up to Instagram, and then, after thousands of hours scrolling, move them onto a different platform. Facebook is in the business of creating customers for life. It’s like factory farming, but your children are the animals.
When we think of evil, we tend to think of men in balaclavas, armed with weapons, moving quietly through the dead of night. However, some of the worst ideas are in plain sight, and some of the worst people are in positions of power. They lobby politicians and play major roles in drafting legislation. This is the banality of evil in its purest form, and Mark Zuckerberg is its poster boy.
In 2019, when Facebook tried to launch Libra, its own digital currency, Congress stepped in. Now, two years later, it must do the same again.
John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by The South China Morning Post, Sydney Morning Herald, and Townhall. You can follow him @ghlionn