Facebook has signalled it will plough ahead with plans to launch a version of its Instagram photo app for young children despite calls from a group of more than 40 state attorneys-general to abandon the project.
In a bipartisan letter addressed to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, the 44 attorneys-general called on the social network to drop its plans to launch an Instagram for under-13s, citing concerns that social media has a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of children.
The group also argued that Facebook has historically “failed to protect the safety and privacy of children on its platforms”.
“An Instagram platform for young children is harmful for myriad reasons. The attorneys-general urge Facebook to abandon its plans to launch this new platform,” the letter said.
In a statement, Facebook indicated that it would press ahead with the plans but would work with legislators to respond to their concerns.
“As every parent knows, kids are online all the time, whether adults want it or not. We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing,” Facebook said.
“We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys-general.”
Facebook’s plans to build the new app, which Bloomberg reported is internally known as Instagram Youth, met with immediate backlash from child safety advocates and politicians when they emerged in March.
At a US House of Representatives hearing that month, Zuckerberg and fellow social media executives, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Google’s Sundar Pichai, faced a barrage of accusations that their platforms are deliberately designed to get young users hooked early, track children online and expose them to toxic content and predators.
In their letter on Monday, the attorneys-general noted that Facebook’s Messenger for Kids app, which launched in 2017, was later found to contain a “significant design flaw” that allowed children to join group chats with strangers without their parents’ approval. The flaw was later fixed.
Facebook has argued that carving out a child-friendly version of its apps with extra parental controls would better protect young people who might otherwise be exposed to egregious content if they lie about their age to sign up to the main platforms.
Facebook on Monday said the company was “committed to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13”.