Instagram is pressing pause on plans to develop a version of its service for kids under 13 after facing pressure from lawmakers to back down on the effort and new questions about the impact the photo-sharing service has on teen girls.
“While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post published Monday. “This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”
The move comes just days before the US Senate was set to hold a hearing entitled “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms” to discuss the pressure today’s youth face on social media. That hearing comes after a Wall Street Journal investigation around what Facebook knows about how Instagram affects teen users, including their mental health.
In the blog post Monday, Mosseri acknowledged that the Journal’s reporting “has raised a lot of questions for people.” In a statement earlier this month, an Instagram official noted that while Instagram can be a place where people have “negative experiences,” the app also gives a voice to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.
“This is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children’s wellbeing should come before Big Tech’s profits,” Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay, a child advocacy group formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in a statement Monday.
“We urge Facebook to use this ‘pause’ to actually engage with the independent child development experts who understand how Instagram will undermine young children’s wellbeing,” Golin added. “We won’t stop pressuring Facebook until they permanently pull the plug. “
In March, BuzzFeed News obtained an internal Instagram memo stating the company had “identified youth work as a priority” and was planning to build a version specifically intended for kids.
In May, 44 attorneys general signed a letter addressed to Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to scrap plans for an Instagram intended for younger users, citing mental health and privacy concerns. The letter came less than a month after child safety groups and members of Congress expressed similar concerns.
In a July blog post, the company said it is developing “a new Instagram experience for tweens” managed by parents and guardians as part of its efforts to “reduce the incentive for people under the age of 13 to lie about their age.”
“The reality is that they’re already online, and with no foolproof way to stop people from misrepresenting their age, we want to build experiences designed specifically for them, managed by parents and guardians,” the post said.
During an interview on the Today Show on Monday, Mosseri said Instagram is working on a series of tools to help address mental health. That includes a feature called Take a Break that allows users to temporarily leave the platform when going through a hard time, such as a break up, without others being able to comment or send messages.
Instagram is also working to add optional parental controls to accounts for users 13 and older. The blog post said more details on how this will work will be announced in the months ahead.