The Ethical Considerations of Instagram for Kids
By Anonymous | May 28, 2021
“Current Instagram policy forbids children under the age of 13 from using the service” (Mac, Silverman 2021). That is all about to change as the parent company of Instagram, Facebook, has added the creation of Instagram for kids onto their priority objectives.
This piece will describe and analyze the impact of the new social media platform, as well as provide possible ethical guidelines and expose shortcomings from the perspective of the Belmont Report.
Currently, extensive details about Facebook’s new project aren’t available, as little has been officially declared by Facebook. However, in a short interview with Buzzfeed, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said “part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control.”
In an interview with Bloomberg Technology, Naomi Nix from Bloomberg News drew inferences from Facebook Messenger Kids to make predictions about possible features of Instagram for kids. She expects that parents will have greater parental control and access to information such as who their children are messaging with, what videos and images they are sending and receiving, and even be able to control what time of day their child can access the application. However, she also warns there has been considerable pushback from parents due to privacy concerns and whether it is healthy to allow such young users access to social media.
Many parents and adults hold reasonable skepticism given the worrying track record of Facebook and its history such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 (Criddle 2020). The fact that Facebook tracks users and capitalizes off petabytes of data users produce is no longer a secret. Therefore, to lessen the ethical impact of Instagram Kids, I will present in this post what I think are sensible steps that Facebook could take through the lens of the Belmont Report, a staple document that guidelines ethical human research.
Respect for Persons:
The collection of data about people needs to be respectful. One needs to be even more careful when dealing with the children’s data. Due to their lack of experience, children are considered to have diminished autonomy, and are thus entitled to greater protection. Simply getting an infant to accept Instagram’s terms and conditions that they may partially understand is out of the question. It would also be unreasonable to expect a toddler who willingly accepts a company’s terms to also accept it when they are older.
A possible workaround to these issues could be to require a parent’s confirmation for their child to use Instagram for kids. As children grow up, they should also have the freedom to revoke or opt-out of their contracts with Facebook. While existing data should be deleted in their entirety: a child’s past behaviors or actions should not dictate their fate in the rest of their academic, professional, and social lives.
The purpose of platforms like Instagram Kids is supposedly to protect them from the vast content available online. However, these platforms must also be considerate towards protecting the digital privacy of their users. As Facebook will most certainly benefit from the data generated by its increased user audience it must also do its role in mitigating the harms caused onto those same users.
The digital footprint left behind should be ephemeral and not permanent to protect users from being subject to profiling and tracking from such an early age. Children should not be the target for advertisements and should be protected from those looking to benefit from the innocence of youth users.
Facebook is not simply aiming their new product to children, but it is also marginalizing and targeting subgroups within that population of users. Facebook will likely receive more data from children who are more vulnerable and more susceptible to being hooked and effected by the addictive nature of Instagram. This could cause those students to spend less time focusing on their schoolwork and spend more time endlessly scrolling through their feeds.
Instagram for kids will likely also increase popularity contests amongst students and spread gossip easier within schools. These issues often target those who are more self-conscious and vulnerable to the judgement of their peers and friends. These concerns could also be corelated with increases in bullying and cyber bullying cases, all of which seriously play with students’ self-esteem and mental health.
Unfortunately, from a justice standpoint, Facebook’s new product has the potential to wreak havoc for student lives. The line between school, private and digital lives will become less clear. Doing so can cause several problems for children, and especially for those among them who are more psychologically vulnerable.
“Facebook Building a Version of Instagram for Kids Under 13.” YouTube, 19 Mar. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2w_V4HXl4k
“Facebook Sued over Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal.” BBC News, 28 Oct. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/technology-54722362
Heilweil, Rebecca. “Seems like Everyone Hates Instagram for Kids.” Vox, 15 Apr. 2021, www.vox.com/recode/22385570/instagram-for-kids-youtube-facebook-messenger