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Facebook has suspended plans to launch Instagram Kids, a version of its photo-sharing app for children under the age of 13, as a backlash against the project gathered momentum in Washington.
Adam Mosseri, who runs the Facebook-owned app, denied that the decision to “pause” development work on Instagram Kids was an admission that the concept was a “bad idea”, and said building a standalone app that offers parents more control and supervision was still the “right thing to do”.
But Mosseri said in a statement on Monday: “I hear the concerns with this project, and we’re announcing these steps today so we can get it right.”
The move comes after an investigation by the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook’s own internal research previously found that using Instagram could be detrimental to aspects of many teenagers’ wellbeing, such as body image. The report, based on documents leaked by an unnamed whistleblower who has since met several members of Congress to discuss the matter, suggested that the company had buried the findings.
Facebook has fiercely disputed the WSJ’s presentation of its research. However it said delaying the launch of Instagram Kids would give it more time to incorporate feedback from policymakers, parents and child-safety campaigners, as the call for stronger safeguarding attracts a growing coalition of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
In the wake of the report, a group of lawmakers in both houses of Congress wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, urging the company to share its research and abandon its plans for the Instagram Kids app.
The plans were also the source of frustration internally, according to staffers. One employee at the app said that in March, before the WSJ report, some had expressed concern about the project, adding that debate over children’s social media use “leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths”.
Another former executive said that the reputational risk in launching the project was now significant. “Everyone can rally around kids,” the person said.
The company has agreed to send Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, to appear this Thursday before a Senate commerce committee hearing about protecting children online.
Many children have spent more time online over the past 18 months during the pandemic lockdowns, triggering growing calls for big tech companies to go further in protecting their mental health and policing potential abuse.
Facebook has argued that it is better — and more practical — to create safe digital spaces for children, where parents are more able to monitor what they are doing, than to try to prevent them from going online altogether.
But parental groups and politicians have taken aim at Instagram, saying it can hook young users into its endless scroll, intrude on their privacy at a vulnerable age and make them unnecessarily anxious about their appearance.
New UK regulations came into force earlier this month designed to protect children online, including checking ages and guaranteeing a “high level of privacy by default”.
In March, after the Instagram Kids plans were first announced, Zuckerberg was grilled by US lawmakers at a hearing over accusations that Facebook was designed to attract young users and could expose them to unsafe content. Shortly after, 44 US attorneys-general wrote to Zuckerberg and called on him to drop the plans, saying it would be “harmful for myriad reasons”.