More than 180,000 people signed three declarations penned by a coalition of advocacy and grassroots organizations, including Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, SumOfUs and the Juggernaut Project.
In March, Buzzfeed obtained internal documents showing that Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, wants to allow kids to “safely use” its popular photo- and video-focused social media platform.
The groups have collectively called on Facebook to shelve its version of Instagram for kids under 13, arguing that excessive use of social media is harmful to adolescents. The campaign says that many of the negative effects of social media, including issues related to self-image, would have devastating consequences for young people. The groups have noted that children under 13 are banned from having an Instagram account not run by a parent or guardian.
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said in a press release on Tuesday that the coalition of groups will submit the petitions, which were launched in early April, to Facebook ahead of the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting tomorrow.
Emma Ruby-Sachs, the executive director of SumOfUs, a non-profit that aims to hold corporations accountable on social and environmental issues, said Facebook’s plan for an ‘Instagram for kids’ is like “Big Tobacco selling ‘child-friendly’ cigarettes.” The initiative is “a cynical ploy to hook in users as early as possible that serves nobody’s interests except [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg’s,” she argued.
Josh Golin, the executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, employed similarly incendiary language when discussing Facebook’s intentions. Concerned parents and activists won’t allow young children to be used as “pawns” in Instagram’s “war with TikTok for market share,” he vowed.
The press release pointed to the fact that Facebook’s plan has already come under fire from members of Congress, federal regulators, dozens of state attorneys general and more than 100 advocates and experts. It also highlighted a recent study that found that 16% of children using Instagram had an online sexual interaction on the platform.
“Rather than enforcing its rules and removing kids under 13 from this risky platform, Facebook plans to usher more of them, at even younger ages, onto Instagram,” the statement read.
Zuckerberg has acknowledged that the company is working on a version of Instagram for children, but said the project was in its “very early stages.”
A Facebook spokesperson told Vice’s Motherboard earlier this month that the company was “exploring” the idea and understood that any platform geared towards children must prioritize safety and privacy. Facebook also promised that it would “not show ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
However, Instagram has a spotty track record when it comes to ensuring minors are safe on its platform. A British law enforcement official wrote a scathing op-ed directed at the site after an investigation by the Telegraph revealed that dozens of convicted pedophiles had Instagram accounts, in violation of its own policies.
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