Facebook tries to convince us it's fine for teens but halts Instagram Kids

We're past the point of believing Facebook's 'research' based on faith alone.

A group of multi-ethnic high school students sit together in a row.  They are each dressed casually ...
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Facebook-owned Instagram is officially putting the brakes on the version of its app created just for kids, months after watchdogs voiced their concerns over its potential harms. The company believes building Instagram Kids is “the right thing to do,” but it is “pausing” development to work with experts, parents, and policymakers to better understand how the project could best be implemented.

“I have three children and their safety is the most important thing in my life,” writes Instagram head Adam Mosseri in a blog post. “I hear the concerns with this project, and we’re announcing these steps today so we can get it right.”

Mosseri’s post — along with a series of tweets about the decision — points the blame directly at critics and journalists for misunderstanding the purpose of the app. This seems to be a common theme in Facebook’s current PR strategy: Simply blame third-party researchers and reporters for not “getting” the point of these social media platforms. It’s more exhausting than it is convincing.

But is it necessary? — “Instagram Kids” is still a fairly amorphous concept. The project leaked in March well before Instagram was actually ready to launch or even announce it. Mostly the idea was to provide kids with a PG version of the Instagram experience, with tons of oversight from parents or guardians.

Mosseri’s assertion is, essentially, that kids under 13 are downloading Instagram whether or not we want them to, and that an app made with those kids in mind would actually serve to protect them from the larger evils available for browsing on the main Instagram app. He posits Instagram Kids as a necessary evil. We’re not sure that logic quite holds up.

Show us your research, then — Mosseri’s argument here, that we’re just missing the point, follows the same line of reasoning Facebook is attempting to use in debunking reports that claim the company knows its apps are toxic for teen girls. In a blog post published over the weekend, Facebook tried to clarify that, actually, its internal research shows Instagram made these issues better for teenage girls — not worse.

The problem with this strategy is that Facebook doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary to back up this strong assertion with similarly bold data. The public has watched Facebook skew data in its favor too many times, at this point, to just believe the company outright when it claims everyone else is misunderstanding its intentions and its effects.

Saying trust us, we’ve looked into this over and over without actually publishing full data to back that up can’t work for Facebook or Instagram, in 2021. Public trust in these companies just isn’t high enough. Are Instagram’s intentions in creating a kids-focused app altruistic, rather than a grab at tweens’ attention? Mosseri would like us to think so. Until Facebook or Instagram shows us how it came to those conclusions, though, the companies’ words are just words.