Attorney General James Urges Facebook to Protect Children by Abandoning Launch of Instagram Kids

AG James and Coalition of 44 AGs Highlight Serious
Concerns Over Safety and Well-Being of Children

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today took action to secure the safety and well-being of children across New York and the United States. As part of a coalition of 44 attorneys general, Attorney General James today sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. The coalition contends that social media can be detrimental to children for myriad reasons and that Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.

“Without a doubt, this is a dangerous idea that risks the safety of our children and puts them directly in harm’s way,” said Attorney General James. “Not only is social media an influential tool that can be detrimental to children who are not of appropriate age, but this plan could place children directly in the paths of predators. There are too many concerns to let Facebook move forward with this ill-conceived idea, which is why we are calling on the company to abandon its launch of Instagram Kids. We must continue to ensure the health and wellness of our next generation and beyond.”

In today’s letter, the attorneys general express various concerns over Facebook’s proposal, including:

  • Research indicating that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children;
  • Rapidly worsening accounts of cyberbullying on Instagram;
  • Use of the platform by predators to target children;
  • Facebook’s unstable 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.

The coalition of attorneys general argue that 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. There is also a risk that predators may exploit children online and cloak their identities using the anonymity of the internet. 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. As children spend more time online during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, these issues have likely been exacerbated.

Additionally, the attorneys general 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.

Joining Attorney General James in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico.