Growing debate over “Instagram Kids”

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CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — There’s a good chance you’re reading this story on your phone. There’s also a good chance you have Instagram on that phone. More than a billion people are on the platform.

Now, plans are in the works for a new kind of Instagram for children — but it’s on hold after concerns it would do more harm than good.

In late September, Instagram and parent company, Facebook, announced they were pausing plans to create “Instagram Kids.” The target user would be between 10 and 12. The decision to pause came after parent pushback and a whistleblower report that claimed Facebook ignored evidence its platform hurt mental health.

Company leaders say they’re going to work on improving the idea but critics are skeptical they can do what’s necessary to keep kids safe.

“When I think about Instagram for kids, I am quite troubled about it,” says Steve Raquel. He’s a professor in the U of I’s Gies College of Business, specializing in digital marketing and social media.

“We already know that social media in general can, and has, shown some really negative impacts on not only teens but also pre-teens for many different reasons,” says Raquel.

He says for this idea to work, Instagram Kids would have to be extremely enticing.

“I look at Instagram Kids a little bit like candy cigarettes .. They’re making it kind of fun and great — but research has shown that kids want to be on adult platforms. They are lying to get to the larger experience,” says Raquel.

He also says parent involvement would have to be part of the equation. That’s something father-of-three Dan Casillas already understands. His kids range in age from 12 to 17. He has strict rules over what apps his kids use and how much time them spend on them.

“Cell phones are a very powerful tool and so no cell phones in your room, all passwords to any accounts are controlled by us, we get to read any of your social media posts and so we’re very transparent in terms of what we expect and they know that,” he says. “I think it’s important to monitor what your children are doing — particularly those things online because you don’t necessarily have control over those things,” says Casillas.

In Instagram’s statement about the pause, they say their kid-friendly platform would be ad free, require parent permission to join and have age-appropriate content. Leaders also say their plan follows suit from other companies, but Raquel says there’s more than meets the eye behind these decisions.

“Ultimately, they’re trying to keep them and hook them into a larger social media presence. And remember, the whole thing behind this isn’t for the kids unfortunately. The kids, just like we are, we’re the product. They may be ad-free, they may make everything great, but at the end of the day they’re collecting data on them — like they are on us and they’re going be using that in terms of the larger picture of why all these social media networks are doing so well — it’s because they’re selling our content and ya know marketing against our wants and needs through those platforms,” says Raquel.

Casillas says no matter what kind of social media your kids can access, it opens the door for life lessons.

“Sometimes it’s hard for kids to understand exactly what they’re reading and how to react to it and it’s really important that they have the opportunity to unplug … We don’t have to respond to everything we see and hear, you know it’s important that we think about what we do before we go ahead and post something. So those are conversations that I think are real important for parents and children to have,” says Casillas.

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