44 Attorneys General Beg Facebook to Leave the Kids Alone

44 Attorneys General Beg Facebook to Leave the Kids Alone
Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP

In an open letter, forty-four attorneys general have beseeched Mark Zuckerberg to mercifully stop the company’s planned version of Instagram for children. Buzzfeed News discovered in March that Facebook — a company famous for platforming murderous rage and dangerous misinformation without consequence — has been developing a platform for kids under age 13, the minimum age to create an Instagram account.

Maybe the company wants to pipe dreams of sugar plum butts and monstrous trolls and freemium merriment to their sweet developing brains for…eating, presumably. Or maybe it’s staking a desperate bid to get kids on board with a company whose primary platform looks doomed to peter out with the Boomers and needs more eyeballs on Reels.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri explained to Buzzfeed that kids are breaking the rules and getting on Instagram anyway, so “part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control.” Instagram-can’t-regulate-so-screw-it is also the gist of a Facebook company spokesperson’s statement shared with Gizmodo:

“As every parent knows, kids are already online,” they said, claiming that they are gathering input from “experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates.”

A little shade here: “We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.” Subtext: We will destroy you.

The attorneys general are not looking forward to working with Facebook and would like Facebook not to unleash the product specifically because of proven failures like keeping kids off the platform in the first place. They cite a report finding that in 2018, UK police documented more instances of sexual grooming on Instagram than on any other platform, followed by Facebook. They also point to the National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, which claimed that in 2020, they received over 20 million reports of child sex abuse material across all of Facebook’s platforms.

The NCMEC reports that the data comes almost entirely from service providers themselves, so TikTok’s relatively sterling count of around 22,700 instances could indicate that Facebook was more communicative. Still, 20 million instances, plus Facebook’s policy of fixing mistakes after everything goes to hell, should preclude getting to run a playground.

In the letter, the attorneys general also point to a recent finding that Instagram had automatically suggested weight loss search terms like “appetite suppressants” for users based on their interests. A 2017 survey by an anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found 42% of young Instagram users had been cyberbullied on the platform, a higher percentage than on any other social media service. They add that users were able to circumvent a safety control in Messenger Kids which was supposed to limit contacts to parentally-approved friends. In fact, social media probably shouldn’t exist at all. They generally note that social media use leads to increased rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and body dysmorphia.

There isn’t a name yet for Instagram’s child product yet, and a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo that it’s in the early stages of development. The spokesperson added that the company has committed today not to show any ads to people under 13.

Don’t gorge on the tempting morsels, children. You will be trapping yourself in a digital friend circle from which there is no escape. Bobby seems cool today but in 20 years he’ll be posting about adrenochrome and lizard people.