More than five dozen clergy members and other religious leaders want Instagram to permanently abandon controversial plans to set up a children’s version of the app, the latest voices in a growing chorus of criticism around the idea.
“The app will serve as a catalytic gateway for young children to the already-documented problems adversely impacting teens, as well as a vast array of unforeseen issues as commercial culture further encroaches on the sanctity of childhood,” the group writes in an new letter distributed by FairPlay, a Boston-based organization that advocates for better protection for kids online.
Meta, Instagram’s parent company, last year said it would pause plans for Instagram Kids after whistle-blower Frances Haugen leaked documents to the Wall Street JournalThis video shows how Instagram can have a negative impact on teens’ mental health. Instagram has argued it could design a safe app for children and place careful limits around its use, similar to Facebook’s Messenger Kids app.
Meta December added parental controls to Instagram. This technically limits children under 13 years old. But it is a widely acknowledged problem that many kids don’t follow those rules; for example, the influencer JoJo Siwa has said she started using Instagram at age, a fact she discussed in a livestream conversation with Instagram chief Adam Mosseri. Just a day after Mosseri was called to Congress, new controls for parents were announced. The Democratic and Republican senators decried Instagram for Children and asked Mosseri not to give up. He declined.
Meta and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, have endured a lot of criticism over the past several years, from many secular minds including FairPlay who has been a fierce foe. Although they have been unsuccessful, the company has largely continued to its current course. It now boasts over 3 billion users worldwide, despite numerous problems with content moderation. But Facebook is now facing declining growth for the first time, and Meta’s share price has plummeted lately, the stock experiencing a record-setting $230 billion one-day drop last week. Last year, the company changed its name to discredit past issues and to focus on creating new virtual reality technologies.
Facebook certainly has taken heat but it is not usual for such a large group of clergy try to publically persuade corporations to change their mind. Their remarks are a reflection of the moment, a time when Meta’s problems maybe catching up to it and long-frustrated opponents like FairPlay may feel emboldened to press their case further.
The new seven-page letter comes from religious leaders across every major faith and cites a wide range of scripture in pressing Instagram to abandon the kids’ app. This letter refers to the Pope Francis, Islamic poet Rumi and Thich Nhat Hánh, the Buddist monk. Also included are passages of the Quran and Bible. Among other arguments, the clergy make the case that an Instagram for Kids would hurt children by keeping them inside their houses: “Essential childhood play is enhanced when experienced outdoors. Countless saints and seers have described the natural world as a place where the Divine speaks.”