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Trahan, Markey take aim at kids-only Instagram, urge Zuckerburg to ‘abandon’ plans

Trahan, Markey take aim at kids-only Instagram, urge Zuckerburg to ‘abandon’ plans

by Erin Tiernan

A group of lawmakers — including two from the Massachusetts delegation — are questioning Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg’s plans for a kids-only Instagram and have given the social media three weeks to convince them or “abandon” the venture.

“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,” Rep. Lori Trahan and Sen. Ed Markey wrote in a Monday letter to Zuckerburg that was also signed by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Lawmakers learned of the plans to create an Instagram for children under 13 during a March 25 Energy and Commerce subcommittee meeting. Lawmakers at the hearing  questioned Zuckerberg — whose Facebook also owns Instagram —  Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey  and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet about negative aspects of social media confronting teens and children online, including cyberbullying, teenage suicide, depression and loneliness.

Zuckerberg said at the time he believed the new Instagram for children would have “broadly positive” effects helping kids connect with their friends. Lawmakers, by contrast, expressed concerns for children who have become more isolated amid the pandemic.

“This committee is ready to legislate to protect our children from your ambition,” Trahan told the social media power brokers during the hearing.

In the letter to Zuckerburg, lawmakers said, “pushing kids to sign up for a new platform that may itself pose threats to young users’ privacy and wellbeing — involves serious challenges and may do more harm than good.”

Lawmakers outlined 14 questions about how the kids’ platform would be set up, data collection, advertising, protecting children’s identities, beauty filters, and how the company will protect from bullying and other potential harms.

They gave Zuckerburg until April 26 to respond and warn if he fails “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 letter refers to Facebook’s “record of failing to protect children’s privacy and safety,” citing a 2019 example when the company’s Messenger Kids app, for kids ages 6 to 12, contained a significant design flaw that allowed children to circumvent restrictions and enter group chats with individuals who were not previously approved by the young users’ parents.

“This episode illustrated the privacy threats to children online and evidenced Facebook’s inability to protect the kids the company actively invited onto this platform,” the lawmakers said in the letter.