Tennessee’s attorney general is part of a group that wants Facebook to stop its plans to create a kids’ version of Instagram. The group contends using social media can be detrimental to children’s health and well-being, and that kids aren’t equipped to navigate the challenges.
Tennessee AG Herbert Slatery signed the letter, along with more than 40 other state attorneys general.
Facebook has said it wouldn’t show ads on the Instagram platform for kids under 13, but Tennessee Chief Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said ads or no ads, the platform will be designed to acclimate kids to social media at a time when they’re psychologically vulnerable.
“And so, they’re creating consumers,” said Skrmetti. “And they’re creating consumers who don’t recognize they’re going to potentially be commodified by these companies going forward.”
Earlier this year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg confirmed plans for an Instagram for kids during a congressional hearing on misinformation. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the company wants to deliver experiences for kids that give parents visibility and control over what their children are doing.
Skrmetti said he sees the possibility of litigation down the road related to this issue, and points to Facebook’s record of failing to protect kids’ safety and privacy on its platform. “I think the goal is to avoid the need for litigation by appealing to the better angels of Facebook’s nature,” said Skrmetti, “and hoping that they recognize there’s severe harm that could happen if they start targeting children with their product.”
Reports from 2019 showed Facebook’s Messenger Kids app, intended for kids between ages six and 12, contained a major design flaw that allowed children to join group chats with strangers not approved by their parents. “There are a lot of benefits that come with technology, but there are a lot of risks involved,” said Skrmetti, “and those risks are magnified for children. And we’re going to do everything we can to use the law to protect children. But parents need to be aware of what’s going on.”
A report for the National Council for Missing and Exploited Children found in 2020, more than 20 million images related to child abuse had been shared on Facebook and Instagram.