Less than two weeks ago, Facebook announced that it is considering launching a new version of Instagram specifically catered to children under the age of 13.
Instagram, which has recently expanded its simple photo-sharing format with “going-live” features and a shop function, currently does not allow 13 year olds to set up an account — and rightly so.
In a world of cyberbullying, online harassment and the risk of predators, it is not responsible for platforms like these to expose younger generations to this kind of mental torment.
According to an article from The Guardian, children’s usage of the app and presence online would be fully parent-controlled, so that they can safely navigate the platform and connect with other young users.
The safety measures include making it difficult for adults to search and follow children on Instagram, and preventing adults from messaging users who are under the age of 18 unless the teens’ follow the adults’ accounts.
While these precautions are probably well-received by parents and may even be the turning point for allowing their children to create a social media account, we have yet to consider the oldest trick in the book — lying about your age and pretending to be someone you’re not.
According to The Guardian, more than 80% of children lie about their age to use social media sites. The Daily Mail states that 60% of parents would let their children lie to avoid age restrictions online.
It’s already possible for children under the age of 13 to set up an account and be active on Instagram as long as they are not reported, making the legalization of these tweens’ usage pointless and ignorant of the real issue at hand. The reality is that Facebook’s consideration of a 13-and-under format ignores the responsibility of handling social media that these children are not ready for.
Adolescents who would take advantage of this possible version of Instagram could potentially subject themselves to hackers, catfishing and cyberbullying, which can cause long-lasting challenges such as anxiety, fear, depression, low self-esteem, behavioral issues and academic struggles.
According to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center it found that more than half of all U.S. teens have experienced cyberbullying and abusive online behavior.
Kids should not be subjected to this mental abuse while they are still developing.
It is crucial for Facebook to not proceed with Instagram for children but instead foster a continuation of age restrictions on social media. In order to uphold these age restrictions, the corporation also needs to create more difficult means of creating an account and encourage parents not to help their young ones be deceitful online.
Even the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, covers his children’s faces with emojis when he posts photos of them on his public account, emphasizing the fact that children do not belong on the app.
When a social media user, regardless of their age, receives responses to their digital activity, a chemical associated with pleasure is produced in the brain. Once children and tweens experience the rush of getting online likes and follows, the lines of who or who not to invite into their universe can get blurred along the way.
“Instagram is driven by ‘likes,’ which can quickly turn the platform into a popularity contest. This emphasis on status and self-promotion can take a toll on a child’s self-esteem, contribute to anxiety, and spark feelings of envy,” according to a recent Parents article.
Another aspect to take into account is the digital trace left online. Time and time again, we hear about comments and statements from the past coming back to haunt people. While users should always be extra careful with what they post online, children and tweens may not understand the importance of this and the consequences they may have until it is too late.
The Facebook team needs to realize the dangers behind young children using social media and being subjected to its complexities. Similarly, parents need to consider whether or not it’s really necessary to allow their children on social media platforms before they at least reach high school so they can fully understand what they are doing. The fear of missing out may be better than cyberbullying, stalking or online harassment.