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Facebook has suspended plans to launch Instagram Kids, a version of its photo-sharing app for children under the age of 13, as criticism of the project gathered momentum in Washington.
Adam Mosseri, who runs the Facebook-owned app, denied that the decision to “pause” development work on Instagram Kids was an admission that the concept was a “bad idea” and added that it was still the “right thing to do” to build a standalone app that offers parents more control and supervision.
Still, Mosseri said in a statement on Monday: “I hear the concerns with this project, and we’re announcing these steps today so we can get it right.”
The move comes after an investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that Facebook’s own internal research previously found that using Instagram could be detrimental to aspects of many teenagers’ wellbeing, such as body image.
Facebook has disputed the WSJ’s presentation of its research but said delaying the launch of Instagram Kids would give it more time to incorporate feedback from policymakers, parents and other child safety campaigners, many of whom have been broadly critical of the scheme.
Earlier this year, 44 US attorneys-general wrote to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and called on him to drop plans for Instagram Kids, saying it would be “harmful for myriad reasons”. That letter came after Zuckerberg was grilled by US lawmakers at a hearing in March over accusations that Facebook was designed to attract young users and could expose them to unsafe content.
New UK regulations came into force earlier this month designed to protect children online, including checking ages and guaranteeing a “high level of privacy by default”.
Many children have spent much more time online during the pandemic’s lockdowns over the past 18 months, triggering growing calls for big tech companies to go further in protecting their mental health and policing for potential abuse.
Facebook has argued that it is better — and more practical — to create safe digital spaces for children, where parents are better able to monitor what they are doing, than to try to prevent them from going online altogether.
However, parental groups have taken aim at Instagram in particular, saying it can hook young users into its endless scroll, intrude on their privacy at a vulnerable age and make them unnecessarily anxious about their appearance.