Facebook has announced that it is currently working on a new version of Instagram, which would be allowed for only under 13-year-olds. This has got people talking and sharing opinions from one extreme to another. So let's go through some details and opinions here.
Social media can be such a beautiful and useful tool, a place for communication and uniting with people but for many, it is also a place of pressure. This pressure is universal and doesn't really depend on age, or any other factors - everyone feels some kind of pressure at some point. Whether it's the looks or being jealous of someone's profession - it can be anything. Thankfully today's society is trying more and more to balance out the pressure and people feeling content with who they are and not trying to compare themselves all the time, but that also requires the ability to read media and know what to believe and what not. And this is a skill that develops when you grow older, it is not automatically installed in kids under the age of 13. So it makes me wonder, won't imposing even younger kids to a platform such as Instagram simply put them face to face with that pressure even at a younger age? And thus, is this platform directed to younger than 13-year-olds, really necessary?
Distribution of Instagram users worldwide as of January 2021 by age group (Statista)
Lying about their age
Even though Instagram currently has an age limit of 13 years, it obviously doesn't stop younger kids from joining, since you can always lie. Furthermore creating more strict rules or verification steps for joining Instagram, requires measurements that might become problematic regarding GDPR etc. And since so many kids under the age of 13 have already been to the current Instagram, they know what is posted there. So creating Instagram for kids and transferring the already logged in under 13-year-olds from the regular one, wouldn't really change the content they would share. Kids are not posting only dog pictures anymore, they know that social media is full of selfies and posts about looks. And would this transfer actually keep the under 13-year-olds away from the current version?
Media literacy, advertisements and Facebook's agenda
Social media isn't only about looks and selfies, it also contains so much false information about many subjects. For example, health education done wrong can be such a harmful thing and Instagram, along with other social media platforms, contains a lot of videos based on health education and many sources are not that safe nor true. However, many professionals have also joined the conversation and are making videos of their own where they confirm whether something is true or false. In addition, kids might have a hard time knowing what is right to post and what is not. And not only that, but they also don't have the knowledge of how to deal with advertisements and other similar links etc. they face online. This doesn't associate directly with only Instagram, but with the whole internet, and if this Instagram for kids would be launched one day, the advertisement should fully be prohibited there. Kids click on what they want and like, and under 13-year-olds don't necessarily hold that required level of understanding when it comes to money. So clicking something cute and colourful with the price of 300€ seems free to them. Another aspect that I cannot bypass, is the possibility of Facebook creating this only to attach these kids to Instagram and start the journey earlier. I don't really see the point of basically lowering the age limit and not raising it.
Instagram’s safety measures
On Instagram's own blog, they have many useful articles covering topics such as appearance pressure, young people on Instagram and anti-bullying. I found a few good posts on privacy regarding teens and young users of Instagram. Some of the things they cover regarding young people and their security are the strong suggestion of keeping their profile private. This is a choice every user can make (out ruling business accounts, which have to be public), and thus is very suggested to young users. In addition, Instagram wants to protect people under the age of 18 from unwanted people to contact them on direct messages (DM's). Thus if you don't follow someone and they try to contact you, they won't be able to do so. This all leads up to the problem with actually knowing how old people are. Anyone can insert their age to be over 13 or even over 18, so Instagram tries to protect this knowledge by using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Instagram has also played around with hiding likes in their current version. This has been going around for a couple of years now and was started in order to find out whether it would take away some of the pressure from users. Will this be a regular feature for every user? Time will tell.
Let the kids be kids
The most important thing that I am afraid of, are the free spirits that enjoy playing outside with their friends and calling each other with plastic cups, will eventually vanish. The only thing that will give them joy, will be a screen. By creating another platform for kids of that age, will only lessen the possibilities of them just going outside and enjoying their free time. They have their whole lives to spend looking at a screen if they wish to, but it doesn't have to start at such a young age. And I know that smartphones are a reality that can't be unfaced and I do agree that kids should have phones to be able to connect with parents and / or friends if needed. But social media doesn't need to be the only way of communication.