If you don’t live under a rock, then you’ve presumably heard of Facebook’s attempt to create a platform for children on Instagram. Within seconds, it seemed, their plan was shut down — or at least put on hold for the time being.
Instagram and other social media apps are notorious for their toxicity, and it’s no wonder that parents, experts, policymakers and regulators would be troubled by the addiction, predatory child groomers and bullying that lurks on the platforms. However, to better recognize why an Instagram platform for children 13 years and younger is frightening, people’s anxieties must be addressed.
If you think Generation Z young adults have their phones attached at the hip, you should take a closer look at the younger portion of the generation and the newest generation, Generation Alpha. For reference, Gen Z is the generation that was born between 1997-2012. Several of them are entering adulthood; they grew up during the 2010s, which gave them a tech-savviness that went beyond that of any previous generation. Known as zoomers, Gen Z are well-versed in anything that has to do with technology or social media.
The teenage and younger Gen Zers and the older Gen Alphas are now growing up in a nearly post-pandemic world, where they will be substituting in-person experiences with more online experiences. When something like this happens, it is cause for concern. The privilege to have a phone, tablet, laptop or anything tech-related always within reach can increase usage exponentially.
On a platform with the ability to freely “refresh” as many times as one desires, it soon becomes a habit to do just that, whenever one gets the chance. According to a Healthline article in 2020, the excessive use of social media and its positive reinforcements can be linked to similar habits in other addictions. Anyone could agree that children need to be children. They deserve to experience a childhood outdoors, engaged with others and apart from technology and social media when it least serves them.
As children accumulate screen time, it’s not a shot in the dark to admit they share an online sphere with sinister people in the shadows. When thinking about who is most vulnerable to online predators, children are the first to be considered. As a society, it’s a responsibility to protect the youth as much as possible. When they are acquainted with technology at such a young age, children are exposed to its toxicity.
As children are more impressionable when they are younger, Instagram Kids is more concerning than ever. It’s one thing to create a platform for children who are already using similar technology, but using an already adult-dominated platform and showcasing it as something wholly distinct is just misleading.
Online predatory behavior is usually so subtle that a child is likely not to pick up on the threat they are encountering. Predators often act out their repulsive fixation by initially giving compliments to a child. They do this to build trust with their victim. They then proceed to develop a rapport with the child to manipulate them in the future. Predators will tell their victims not to inform anyone about their conversations or “relationship” with one another, and it’s a good chance the victim will keep quiet.
The children being groomed and preyed upon are innocent and defenseless throughout this process. In a perfect world, online predators would be wiped clean from any server, and everyone could go on the internet freely without fear of harassment.
Unfortunately, the world is not a wholesome place, and there are unwell people in it. In recent years, the focus on online predators is something to be thankful for, but they’re still out there manipulating children behind closed doors. Children must be protected at all costs, and if that means not permitting or enabling them to use social media until a specific age, so be it.
Not only is the risk of predatory behavior unsettling, but bullying also poses a hazard to children. In a virtual world where children can discover the complexities of social media, somewhere along the line, kids begin to use social media whether or not they’re old enough and equipped for it. The internet is a rigid reality people of all ages face, but children are an easy target. Expanding minds lead to more curiosity, which directs a child to a social media app like Instagram.
Abusive behavior comes in varying forms online: name-calling, discrimination, false rumors, unsolicited explicit images, physical threats, non-consensually shared graphic images, misrepresented identities, social exclusion and cyberstalking. Cyberbullying has become something easy enough for anyone to partake in because of the anonymity and lack of consequences afforded by the internet. It’s sufficient to say this is no atmosphere for a child to be navigating alone.
The reality is that addiction, predatory behavior and bullying are deeply connected to technology and social media, contributing negatively to mental health. So, why should society subject its children to the cold and indifferent social media landscape if they may suffer the undeserved ramifications? Why should society wait until the damage is done before rescuing children from the possibilities of becoming addicted, groomed by an online predator or harshly bullied by someone they don’t even know?
Instagram Kids will shamelessly do more harm than good if they advance with the platform. There are multiple ways for children to be engaged online and not be affected by its toxicity. At this point, Facebook should open the discussion so people can express their concerns over Instagram Kids and add to a conversation they are usually left out of.