Instagram puts kids version ‘on ice’ after critical backlash

The head of Instagram has just announced that it’s “pausing” a planned version of the social media software aimed at those younger than 13. The development comes hard on the heels of critical reporting in The Wall Street Journal which unearthed internal documents that suggest the Facebook-owned company was aware the social media service caused anxiety and mental health issues in teenaged girls.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri references the WSJ report in a Twitter thread today — but he tries to play down the impact of the investigative journalism, seeking to re-spin the “pause” as intentional and thoughtful as opposed to a panicked reaction to extremely negative revelations about the impact of the service on the mental health of young girls.

The WSJ obtained an internal research slide from 2019 — in which Instagram’s parent Facebook acknowledged “we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”

“We’re pausing our project to build an Instagram experience for tweens, often referred to as ‘Instagram Kids’,” wrote Mosseri in a series of tweets today.

“This experience was never meant for kids. We were designing an experience for tweens (10-12yo), and it was never going to be the same as Instagram today. Parents approve tween accounts and have oversight over who they follow, who follows them, who messages them, time spent etc.

“But the project leaked way before we knew what it would be. People feared the worst, and we had few answers at that stage. Recent WSJ reporting caused even greater concern. It’s clear we need to take more time on this.”

If “taking more time” is a euphemism for “never”, Mosseri’s conclusion might be welcomed by the scores of child protection groups and stakeholders who have been urging Facebook to ditch the plan for months.

Back in May, for instance, attorneys general from 44 U.S. states and territories penned a letter to Facebook calling on it to abandon its plan for an Instagram for under 13s.

Mosseri, however, has previously sought to play down concerns around the app’s negative impact on teens — dismissing them as “quite small”, as we reported earlier this month.

“Critics will see this as a concession that the project is a bad idea. That’s not it,” the Instagram CEO went on to claim in today’s tweet thread announcing the shelving of the project — before going on to fear-monger that alternative apps under 13s might find and use could be way worse. So, uh, stay classy, Mosseri…

In an additional announcement that’s bundled with the headline-grabbing news it’s pulling Instagram “tweens” (as Mosseri couches it), the social media giant also reveals it’s building what it calls “optional parental controls for teens”.

At the time of writing the link to Instagram’s blog post about this change was not working (Update: the link now works) so details are scant — but the move implies that the Facebook-owned company is feeling the heat in the wake of revelations that, per the WSJ’s reporting of its internal documents, 32% of teenage girls reported that Instagram made them have a worse body image.

The WSJ report also cited that, of research participants who experienced suicidal thoughts, 13% of British teens and 6% of American teens directly linked their interest in killing themselves to Instagram.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” another internal slide stated. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”