NATIONAL NEWS

Past storms haven’t fazed Facebook. Instagram Kids might

Oct 1, 2021, 11:20 AM
FILE: The Instagram app logo is displayed on an iPhone on Aug. 3, 2016, in London, England.  (Photo...
FILE: The Instagram app logo is displayed on an iPhone on Aug. 3, 2016, in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

(AP) — Nineteen-year-old Gigi Painter hopes Facebook’s planned “Instagram Kids” never becomes a reality.

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

She recalls constant pressure to post good photos that would garner lots of “likes” or positive comments. And then there was the ever-present threat of bullying on the platform. Some people at her school would create anonymous Instagram accounts where they’d upload photos of other students with mean or sexualized captions.

She isn’t alone. An unlikely alliance of congressional Democrats and Republicans, along with a host of child development experts and online advocacy groups, is now pressuring Facebook to scuttle Instagram Kids, a proposed service for tweens. Their reasoning could be summarized this way: A company that cannot keep human trafficking, hate speech and the live-streaming of suicides off its platform should not be trusted with making an app for children.

“This is serious,” said Painter, who can rattle off all the social media accounts she has on her phone. “People are basing their whole view of themselves off of the feedback they get from a picture.”

Instagram, a small but beloved photo sharing app when Facebook bought it for $1 billion in 2012, is having its Facebook moment. It’s not an enviable one. Damning newspaper reports based on the company’s own research found that Facebook knew about the harms Instagram can cause to teenagers — especially teen girls — when it comes to mental health and body image issues.

In a swift PR offensive, Facebook tried to play down the reports — including its own research. It didn’t work.

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

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee is is examining how Facebook handled information from its own researchers on Instagram’s potential threat to younger users while the company publicly played down the issue.

The episode threatens to rival the scale of Facebook’s 2018 Cambridge Analytica debacle. Revelations at the time showed that the data mining firm had gathered details on as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission, eventually leading to congressional hearings in which Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg testified for the first time.

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

Thursday’s hearing showed that they’ve done some homework. The fallout could put an end to the tech company’s plan for a children’s product — and might even spur lawmakers to regulate the company, if only they can agree on how.

“It’s abundantly clear that Facebook views the events of the last two weeks purely as a PR problem,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the children’s online watchdog group Fairplay. The group, formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, doesn’t take money from Facebook or other corporations, unlike the nonprofits Facebook tends to bring in for expert advice on its products.

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

But some of her pediatric patients have endured harassment or spend too much time scrolling through 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 kids don’t find their way onto sites like Instagram. And they want legislators to pass regulations on how tech companies can advertise to kids.

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

Legislators have failed to regulate the tech companies in a meaningful way, despite dozens of hearings in recent years in which politicians publicly assailed Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for making big money off of Americans’ data and privacy.

But Facebook had a harder time defending itself on Thursday to U.S. senators who came prepared with research and tough questions, noted Brooke Erin Duffy, a communications professor at Cornell University. The hearing was starkly different from the Senate’s 2018 grilling of Zuckerberg in which senators asked him basic questions — like how Facebook makes money.

“The focus on protecting children may be much more of a catalyst for regulation than other concerns and criticisms,” Duffy said. “The senators deployed this knowledge of big tech in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen before.”

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

“The culture was from the start making things look better than in real life,” McNamee said. “This created an entire culture of envy that was the original design of the product and they leaned into it every step of the way. Think about the whole influencer movement that began on Instagram. All that was designed for that envy model.”

“We need to recognize, just as we did with food and pharma and chemicals that this industry cannot operate safely without regulation,” McNamee said. “We are running out of time.”

Now a college student, Painter says she cares less now about getting “likes” on Instagram. But she worries about younger relatives who seem anxious to post perfect pictures on the platform. Looking back on how Instagram was used when she went to school, she hopes it’s different for them.

“Oh gosh, I don’t want them to have to experience a lot of that stuff,” Painter said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

R&B singer R. Kelly (L) arrives at the Cook County courthouse where jury selection is scheduled to ...
Claire Savage and Michael Tarm, Associated Press

Chicago prosecutor dropping R. Kelly sex-abuse charges

A Chicago prosecutor said Monday that she's dropping sex-abuse charges against singer R. Kelly following federal convictions in two courts that should guarantee the disgraced R&B star will be locked up for decades.
24 hours ago
The booking photo for Jami Farmer. (Lincoln County Sheriff’ Office)...
Michael Houck

Nevada attempted murder suspect arrested in Washington County

An attempted murder suspect from Nevada is in police custody after being found at a Utah gas station Monday.
24 hours ago
Amy Robach and TJ Holmes attend the 2022 ABC Disney Upfront at Basketball City - Pier 36 - South St...
Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network.
24 hours ago
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 07:  A general view of the skyline of downtown Dallas, Texas as the American Airl...
KELSY MITTAUER

Arrest made in sex trafficking of teen girl who disappeared at Mavs game

Nine months after a Texas girl was sex trafficked after disappearing from a Mavericks game, an arrest has been made.
24 hours ago
Lisa Loring...
Toyin Owoseje and Amanda Watts, CNN

Lisa Loring, original Wednesday Addams actress, dead at 64

Lisa Loring, best known as the first actress to play Wednesday Addams in the original "The Addams Family" sitcom, has died at the age of 64.
24 hours ago
FILE - Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey gets ready to spin his popular "Wheel of Fugitive" in July...
Associated Press

Florida sheriff sued for ‘Wheel of Fugitive’ defamation

A man has filed a defamation lawsuit against a Florida sheriff who posts weekly “Wheel of Fugitive” videos on social media.
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Past storms haven’t fazed Facebook. Instagram Kids might