Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced Monday that the company is “pausing the work” on Instagram Kids, an ad-free version of the photo sharing app intended for children under the age of 13 that has prompted a barrage of criticism since plans to build such a product were first reported back in March. “We’ll use this time to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product” and “continue to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens,” Mosseri wrote in an Instagram blog post, in which he seemed to at once acknowledge the need to put the plan on ice and dismiss reasonable conclusions one could draw from the company doing so. “Critics…will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case,” he claimed, noting “we’re not the only company” to see the need for such an experience. Rivals such as YouTube and TikTok have likewise developed “age-appropriate experiences” in response to “the reality…that kids are already online,” Mosseri wrote, points he reiterated in an interview with NBC’s Today.
Citing mental health and privacy concerns, lawmakers and more than 40 state attorneys generals were among those calling on Facebook—which owns Instagram—to scrap the project this spring. The company has continued to come under fire in recent weeks, amid damning reporting by the Wall Street Journal suggesting Facebook was aware of the harmful effects that Instagram had on teenage girls—it has been conducting studies into teen’s experiences on the app for the past three years—but publicly played down such internal research findings. “Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform,” the Journal noted—even if, as a slide summarizing internal research in 2019 concluded, “we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
Executives at the company—including Mosseri in Monday’s Today interview and blog post—have tried to discredit the Journal’s Facebook Files investigation by claiming the outlet mischaracterized its internal research, though Facebook has yet to release such findings in full. But in a Twitter thread Monday, Mosseri framed the Journal backlash as a kind of tipping point for reconsidering the youth service, and to Today’s Craig Melvin described features the company has been developing to address body image issues spotlighted by the Journal.
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Later this week, Facebook is set to send global head of safety Antigone Davis to Washington to testify on kids’ safety before the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, according to the Washington Post. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were outraged over the alleged whitewashing of Instagram’s toxicity, especially given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s statement at a congressional hearing this year that “the research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits.” Senator Marsha Blackburn, the ranking member on the subcommittee, told the Post that the purported whistleblower behind the Facebook leaks has given her office and others on Capitol Hill “reams of documents” that were provided to the Journal. And according to a Blackburn aide, the whistleblower intends to go public by the end of the year—potentially by testifying before the consumer protection panel.