Citing serious concerns about the safety and well-being of children and the harm social media poses to young people, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor has joined a coalition of 44 attorneys general urging Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of the popular photo-sharing Instagram program for children under the age of 13.
“As Attorney General, I have an interest in protecting the youngest citizens in our state, and Facebook’s plan to create a platform where kids under the age of 13 are encouraged to share content online is contrary to that interest,” Taylor said. “Children under thirteen are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, manipulation, abuse and bullying on social media platforms. Nothing is more important than protecting the welfare of Alaskan children.”
Instagram is owned by Facebook, and currently prohibits anyone under 13 from creating an account.
In a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, the coalition contends that social media can be detrimental to children for a myriad of reasons and that Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms. In their letter, the attorneys general express various concerns over Facebook’s proposal, including research that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children; rapidly worsening concerns about cyberbullying on Instagram; use of the platform by predators to target children; Facebook’s checkered record in protecting the welfare of children on its platforms; and children’s lack of capacity to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including advertising, inappropriate content and relationships with strangers.
At a Congressional hearing in March, Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that social media is harmful to children, despite strong data and research that has shown a link between young people’s use of social media and an increase in mental distress, self-injurious behavior, and suicidality. Instagram has been frequently flagged for increasing suicidal ideation, depression, and body image concerns in children.
Additionally, the attorneys general argue, young children are not equipped to handle the many challenges that come with having an Instagram account, including that they often lack a developed understanding of privacy. The risk that predators may use the proposed platform to exploit children online and cloak their identities using the anonymity of the Internet runs counter to the Department of Law’s ongoing efforts to combat sexual abuse. One report 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.
Cyberbullying is also a major concern, and a 2017 survey found that 42 percent of young Instagram users had experienced cyberbullying on the platform, the highest percentage of any platform measured. In Alaska, according to the Youth Risk Behavioral Study, 23% of students were bullied on school property and 19% of students were bullied electronically.
Attorneys general also cast doubt on Facebook’s ability to protect children on their proposed Instagram platform and comply with relevant privacy laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). They point out that the company has a record of failing to protect the safety and privacy of children. For instance, Facebook’s Messenger Kids app contained a glitch that allowed children to circumvent restrictions and join group chats with strangers.
The letter is joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The attorneys general letter to Facebook can be found here.