RICHMOND (May 10, 2021) – Citing serious concerns about the safety and wellbeing of children and the danger social media poses to young people, Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general in urging Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues contend that social media can be detrimental to children for a myriad of reasons and that historically Facebook has failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.
“It is becoming increasingly clear just how dangerous the internet can be for children from cyberbullying to dangerous individuals who prey on young people,” said Attorney General Herring. “It is concerning that Facebook has demonstrated that they do not share the same concerns about the negative impact the internet and social network platforms have on children, which is why I am joining my colleagues in urging the company to rethink their plan to launch an Instagram for children.”
In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleague 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, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues 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 COVID-19 pandemic, these issues have likely been exacerbated.
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues 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.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, 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, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.