SEATTLE — In a letter, Washington state Attorney General Robert W. Ferguson joined over 40 other state attorneys general to urge Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon plans to create a new version of Instagram targeted to children under the age of 13.
The letter says the attorneys general have an interest in protecting the children of their states and states that Facebook has historically failed to protect children across its platforms.
Quoting several studies, the letter states that research indicates social media use by children has an increasingly negative effect on their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Studies have also indicated that after tracking the activity of 5.4 million children, the research found that Instagram was frequently highlighted for thoughts of suicide, depression and body image concerns.
The letter continued to quote several more studies, saying that repeatedly viewing selfies led to “decreased self-esteem” and “decreased life satisfaction,” while another study found that the more time spent on Facebook can be associated with a greater body-image dissatisfaction among girls.
The attorneys general also pointed out the quoted studies directly contradicted Zuckerberg’s statements at the March congressional hearing in which he dismissed the idea that social media was harmful to children.
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Further stating in the letter, the attorneys general said that young children do not have a developed understanding of privacy and they may not fully understand what content is appropriate to share with others.
Children are also unable to maneuver the complexities of who they could encounter online, including strangers who may provide inappropriate content or attempt to build an online relationship using the anonymity of the internet to hide themselves.
A recent study has found a 200% increase in the use of Instagram to target and abuse children over a six-month period in 2018, with documented cases of sexual grooming on Instagram more than any other platform.
In 2020 alone, Facebook and Instagram reported 20 million images of child sexual abuse on their platforms.
The increasing rates of cyberbullying among children was also noted, quoting a 2017 survey that found 42% of young Instagram users had experienced some form of cyberbullying on their platform, the largest percentage of any measured social media platform.
Finally, the letter says Facebook has a record of failing to protect the safety and privacy of children on their platforms.
The letter noted a recent “mistake” with Instagram’s algorithm that was serving diet-related content to users with eating disorders.
The attorneys general closed by further urging Facebook to abandon its plans to launch this new platform.
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