AGs against Instagram Kids: 44 states oppose 13-and-under version

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined a coalition of 44 attorneys general in urging Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.

According to a release from Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, the coalition wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg contending that social media can be detrimental to children and that Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.

"Launching a version of Instagram for children under 13 would make it more difficult to protect kids from the detrimental effects of social media. Facebook needs to reconsider—and drop—this plan," Attorney General Kaul wrote.

In their letter, the attorneys general wrote that research shows social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children. They cited rapidly worsening concerns about cyberbullying on Instagram, the use of the platform by predators to target children, and Facebook’s "checkered record in protecting the welfare of children on its platforms." They also wrote that children lack the capacity to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including "advertising, inappropriate content and relationships with strangers."

The coalition also cited one report that found an increase of 200 percent in recorded instances in the use of Instagram to target and abuse children over a six-month period in 2018. In 2020 alone, Facebook and Instagram reported 20 million child sexual abuse images.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says research has shown social media can have a negative impact on kids’ mental health. He says he also doesn’t believe Facebook has looked out for the wellbeing of children in the past. Plus, he’s concerned about predators getting access to kids through a social media platform like Instagram for kids. 

"That is one of the main concerns is the predatory behavior, people who misrepresent who they are and then take advantage of kids," Ellison said. 

Ellison says if the platform moves forward, he and other attorneys general will look at using litigation and legislation to make Facebook comply. 

Marguerite Ohrtman, Director of School Counseling and Clinical Training University of Minnesota explains how social media can have an impact on children saying research suggests looking at social media can actually impact the chemicals in their brain. 

"It’s addictive. It can cause hurt feelings there is anxiety and stress. There is oxytocin and adrenaline that’s addressed when you read through your social media," Ohrtman said. 

She explains, it’s more difficult for kids to navigate what is real, what exaggerated or what’s exploitive online. 

"Their brains aren’t developed enough to understand that to have that abstract thought of there’s more to this than just this picture," Ohrtman said. 

She says if an Instagram platform for kids does more forward, parents and guardians should have serious conversations with kids about what they see on social media and how they’re using it. 

"You have to have parents and guardians asking those really tough questions like: what are you looking at, what does that mean for you, what are you taking away from this, asking them to do the processing and critical thinking of what they’re seeing on social media." Ohrtman said.

"They just don’t have the mental capacity to process that in the right way when they’re that young," Hannah Monheim, Co-founder of the podcast and online community Mom’s Dish MN said. 

Monheim says social media has become a place for her to build community and connect with events, businesses and other people but she’s not sure if she would want her kids scrolling around on something like Instagram. 

"We should be encouraging more in person interactions for kids. They just need that level of connection," Monheim said. 

For more information on the coalition, click here.

A Facebook spokesperson released the following statement in response:

"As every parent knows, kids are already online. We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing. We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general. In addition, we commit today to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13."