Past storms haven’t confused Facebook; Instagram Kids could

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Gigi Painter, 19, hopes that Facebook’s “Instagram Kids” will never become a reality.

Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Painter said she and most of her friends started Instagram accounts by lying about their age years before they were 13.

She remembers the constant pressure to post good photos that would garner a lot of “likes” or positive comments. And then there was the ever-present threat of bullying on the platform. Some people at her school set up anonymous Instagram accounts where they uploaded photos of other students with mean or sexualized captions.

She is not alone. An unlikely alliance of Congressional Democrats and Republicans, along with a host of child development experts and online advocacy groups, is now lobbying Facebook to scuttle Instagram Kids, a service offered for tweens. Their reasoning could be summed up as follows: A company that cannot prevent human trafficking, hate speech and the live streaming of suicides from its platform should not be allowed to create an app for children. .

“It’s serious,” said Painter, who can debit any social media accounts she has on her phone. “People base their view of themselves on the feedback they receive from an image.”

Instagram, a small but popular photo-sharing app when Facebook bought it for $ 1 billion in 2012, has its Facebook moment. It is not enviable. Damaging newspaper articles based on the company’s own research revealed that Facebook was aware of the damage Instagram can do to teenagers – especially teenage girls – when it comes to mental health and body image issues. .

In a quick public relations offensive, Facebook attempted to downplay the reports, including its own research. It did not work.

On Thursday, senators – one on each side of the aisle – called the first of several hearings on the matter. Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global security, defended Instagram’s efforts to protect young people using its platform, insisting that Facebook cares “deeply about the safety and security of people on our platform. -form”.

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee is examining how Facebook handled information from its own researchers about Instagram’s potential threat to young users, while the company publicly downplayed the problem.

The episode threatens to rival the scale of the Cambridge Analytica debacle in 2018 on Facebook. The revelations at the time showed that the data mining company gathered details of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission, which ultimately led to congressional hearings in which the CEO and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified for the first time.

But the Cambridge Analytica scandal was complicated and difficult to follow. During those hearings, some lawmakers didn’t seem to even have a basic understanding of how social media works.

Thursday’s hearing showed they have done their homework. The fallout could end the tech company’s plan for a children’s product – and could even spur lawmakers to regulate the company, if only they can agree on how.

“It’s quite clear that Facebook views the events of the past two weeks solely as a public relations issue,” said Josh Golin, executive director of online children’s watch group Fairplay. The group, formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, does not take money from Facebook or other companies, unlike the nonprofits that Facebook tends to rely on for advice. experts on its products.

There is a silver lining to children’s internet use, said Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Communications and Media Council. It can be a great place for kids to talk with friends during a pandemic, virtually explore a museum, or even make money as budding influencers.

But some of his pediatric patients have experienced harassment or spend too much time browsing an endless stream of photos on apps like Instagram.

That’s why she and other pediatricians want Facebook to do a better job of making sure young children don’t find their way on sites like Instagram. And they want lawmakers to pass regulations on how tech companies can advertise to children.

“I understand these are businesses,” Ameenuddin said. “(But) we don’t have to exploit the most vulnerable members of society.”

Lawmakers have failed to regulate tech companies in any meaningful way, despite dozens of hearings in recent years in which politicians have publicly attacked Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for making big bucks with data and data. American confidentiality.

But Facebook had a harder time defending itself Thursday to a U.S. senator prepared with some tough research and questions, noted Brooke Erin Duffy, a communications professor at Cornell University. The hearing was radically different from Zuckerberg’s grill by the Senate in 2018 where Senators asked him basic questions – like how Facebook makes money.

“The focus on protecting children can be a lot more of a catalyst for regulation than other concerns and critiques,” Duffy said. “Senators have deployed this great tech knowledge in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen before.”

Roger McNamee, one of Facebook’s early investors who is now one of the company’s biggest critics, said it’s important to remember how Instagram started. It was a photo sharing app, born in 2010, when smartphone cameras were pretty ugly by today’s standards, its creators added photo filters so people could make them look better.

“The culture from the start has been about making things look better than in real life,” McNamee said. “It created a whole culture of envy that was the original design of the product and they looked at it every step of the way. Think about the whole influencer movement that started on Instagram. It was all designed for this model of envy. “

“We have to recognize, just as we have done with food, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, that this industry cannot operate safely without regulation,” McNamee said. “We’re running out of time.”

Now a student, Painter says she cares less about getting “likes” on Instagram. But she is worried about the younger parents who seem eager to post perfect photos on the platform. Thinking back to using Instagram when she went to school, she hopes it’s different for them.

“Oh my God, I don’t want them to have to go through a lot of things like this,” Painter said.


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