Facebook, the social media behemoth that owns Instagram, is developing a new Instagram product for children under 13 years of age, according to leaked documents obtained by BuzzFeed. Instagram users must currently click a button declaring that they’re at least 13 years old, or that the account featuring a kid under the age of 13 is “managed” by an adult.
“I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list,” an Instagram executive wrote to employees on Thursday, according to a message reviewed by BuzzFeed.
The term “youth work,” appears to refer to work by Instagram employees on providing tech platforms for youth user, not putting youth to work, as it were. However, we can’t take anything for granted when it comes to a company like Facebook’s ethical guidelines.
“We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things,” the internal message to Instagram employees continued. “(a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.”
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment sent late Thursday but did confirm to other news outlets, such as Australia’s ABC News, that it was indeed working on an Instagram product for children. The company did not elaborate on the kinds of things that would differentiate an Instagram For Kids product from regular Instagram.
BuzzFeed notes that one of the people spearheading the project, Pavni Diwanji, previously worked on YouTube’s controversial kids product while at Google. YouTube Kids has served as a gateway to grown-up YouTube, a smart strategy for monopolistic companies looking to expand market share.
It’s long been said that social media is the new smoking and this heightened focus on children would seem to give more ammunition to that thesis. Tobacco companies spent the 1970s and 80s marketing their product to kids in an effort to create a new generation of smokers as the negative health effects of smoking became better understood and led people to quit the product. Tobacco ads on TV and radio were banned in 1971, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when there was a concerted effort to crack down on tobacco marketing in the U.S., with a ban on tobacco billboards starting in 1999.
Anti-advertising advocates have long worried about the kinds of messages that kids have been receiving, whether it’s about tobacco or particularly sugary food. But messages about the dangers of social media haven’t been spread with the same cohesive and well-funded movements that emerged like the anti-tobacco organisations of the 1990s.
It obviously remains to be seen what kind of product an Instagram for kids might look like, but we can expect Big Tech to make a concerted effort to find new demographics in the coming years. And, to be frank, there’s not a lot of money in getting Grandma on your social media platform. Aside from being very set in their ways, and by extension their buying habits, making them less attractive to advertisers, it’s much more lucrative to get a child addicted to your product because they’re more likely to use it for life. Again, it’s one of the great lessons from Big Tobacco.