Here’s why Ed Markey and Lori Trahan are railing against ‘Instagram for kids’

The plan to build a version of the photo-sharing app for children under 13 was revealed last month.

Facebook Inc.'s Instagram logo is displayed on the Instagram application on an Apple Inc. iPhone in this arranged photograph taken in Washington, D.C., U.S.
–Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg, File

Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan are pressing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on his company’s intention to build a version of Instagram for children over concerns of privacy and safety.

The Massachusetts politicians signed a letter to Zuckerberg Monday, which was also signed by Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal and Florida representative Kathy Castor. The signers are all Democrats.

“Given Facebook’s past failures to protect children and in light of evidence that using Instagram may pose a threat to young users’ wellbeing, we have serious concerns about this proposal,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data. Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfil this obligation,” the letter continued.

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The letter pointed to a 2019 bug in the company’s Messenger Kids app that let children enter group chats with strangers. It also noted the role of bullying on social media and the impact that social media could have on young people’s mental health.

BuzzFeed News obtained an internal company memo last month revealing Instagram’s plan to launch a youth-oriented version of the app. The internal announcement came days after a public blog post stating Instagram’s intent to make the existing app safer for teens, including using artificial intelligence to determine users’ ages and restricting messaging between teens and adults they don’t follow. Instagram requires users to be 13 or older.

The lawmakers requested answers to 14 questions on how the new app would function, including queries on data collection, privacy, community guidelines, influencer marketing, targeted advertising, beauty filters, auto-deleting content, and engagement statistics that might quantify popularity like follower counts. The letter asks for a response by April 26.

“Should Facebook fail to provide adequate responses to the questions above or otherwise fail to demonstrate that a future version of Instagram for children would meet the highest standards of user protection, we would advise you to abandon your plans to launch this new platform,” the lawmakers wrote.

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