#parent | #kids | Should There Be Separate Social Media Apps for Children?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Do you think it is a good idea for Instagram to develop a version of its photo-sharing app for children under 13? Why or why not?

In your opinion, are social media platforms unsafe or unhealthy for younger users? Is creating separate apps the right response to these concerns — or are some children too young to be on social media at all?

In “Mark Zuckerberg is urged to scrap plans for an Instagram for children,” Natasha Singer writes about the debate over Instagram’s planned children’s app:

An international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups called on Instagram on Thursday to scrap its plans to develop a version of the popular photo-sharing app for users under age 13.

Instagram is pushing for a separate children’s app after years of complaints from legislators and parents that the platform has been slow to identify underage users and protect them from sexual predators and bullying.

But in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, which owns Instagram, the nonprofit groups warned that a children’s version would not mitigate such problems. While 10- to 12-year-olds with Instagram accounts would be unlikely to switch to a “babyish version” of the app, the groups said, it could hook even younger users on endless routines of photo-scrolling and body-image shame.

“While collecting valuable family data and cultivating a new generation of Instagram users may be good for Facebook’s bottom line,” the groups, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston, said in the letter to Mr. Zuckerberg, “it will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”

Ms. Singer also spoke to a representative from Facebook, which owns Instagram:

Stephanie Otway, a Facebook spokeswoman, said Instagram was in the early stages of developing a service for children as part of an effort to keep those under 13 off its main platform. Although Instagram requires users to be at least 13, many younger children have lied about their age to set up accounts.

Ms. Otway said that the company would not show ads in any Instagram product developed for children younger than 13, and that it planned to consult with experts on children’s health and safety on the project. Instagram is also working on new age-verification methods to catch younger users trying to lie about their age, she said.

“The reality is that kids are online,” Ms. Otway said. “They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Do you think that there should be an Instagram app for children under 13? Why or why not? Should there be children’s versions of other social media platforms?

  • How old were you when you started using social media? If an Instagram for children had existed when you were younger, would you have used it?

  • The Facebook spokeswoman and the coalition of children’s and consumer groups provide opposing arguments about Facebook’s motivations for developing an Instagram for children. What do they each argue? Whose argument do you find more convincing, and why?

  • What do you think is an appropriate minimum age for social media platforms? Do you think there should be a minimum age for a children-only app? What age, and why?

  • The coalition of children’s and consumer groups argue that young children are “particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.” Which features do you think they are talking about? Do you agree? Why or why not?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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