Instagram is hitting the brakes on its plans to develop a version of its flagship platform for kids under 13, company head Adam Mosseri announced on Monday. The news comes in the wake of a damning report from the Wall Street Journal that detailed how the Facebook-owned company was fully aware of the platform’s negative impact on some teen girls’ psyches based on internal research but knowingly buried the report to minimize bad press.
“We believe building ‘Instagram Kids’ is the right thing to do, but we’re pausing the work,” Mosseri wrote. “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.”
It’s unclear just how long this “pause” will last, and whether it will actually allay any regulatory woes. Earlier this month, a number of lawmakers, including Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida, co-signed a joint letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon plans to roll out the planned Kids product. The letter draws on the Journal’s initial report, which revealed that the company had knowingly buried internal research into the platform’s effects on teen well-being. And those effects weren’t good.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers wrote in one slide, from a presentation dated to early 2020 that was posted to an internal Facebook message board.
Another presentation, from 2019, laid it out it more bluntly: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” it read, in part. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
The news of these internal documents was met with outrage by the regulators behind the aforementioned letter, and a pretty... ho-hum response by the company in charge. Over the weekend, Facebook put out a blog post that attempted to refute some of the Journal’s findings that the platform is a net-negative for teens that use it.
“It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teen girls,” wrote Pratiti Raychoudhury, who heads Facebook’s research division. “The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.”
Raychoudhury’s argument, which includes point-by-point refutations of passages in the WSJ report, boils down to the Journal misconstruing its findings and cherry-picking the worst nuggets from this internal presentation while ignoring the larger picture. “The [internal] research shows one in three of those teenage girls who told us they were experiencing body image issues reported that using Instagram made them feel worse—not one in three of all teenage girls,” Raychoudhury wrote.
The fact that Mosseri seems to be putting the company’s planned teen-centric expansion on pause—rather than cutting off the entire project entirely—seems to imply that the company still doesn’t see the issue with forging ahead, but does see an issue with all the bad press it’s been getting at the moment. Hopefully, this little breather will teach the company to, er, maybe be more forthcoming about its internal research, rather than leaving it up to journalists to stumble onto its most abhorrent parts.