Facebook is already grappling with reports that it was aware of the damage Instagram can do to the mental health of teenagers, especially young girls.
Facebook said that it is suspending development of a version of its Instagram photo-sharing app for children aged under 13, after widespread criticism of the plan.
The decision on Monday to pause the kids' app comes as Facebook grapples with the fallout of a series of withering Wall Street Journal reports revealing that the company's own research showed it was aware of the damage Instagram can do to the mental health of teenagers, especially, young girls.
Facebook's announcement comes just days ahead of a hearing before US senators that was set up in response to outrage that followed the Journal series.
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Facebook will pause the development of Instagram for kids amid the controversy over whether Instagram harms the mental health of the young -WSJ https://t.co/XDXNTx0ZI7 via @WSJ— Fred Katayama (@freddiethekat) September 27, 2021
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri complained that the project aimed at children, which would have created a parentally supervised version of the app for youngsters, had been widely misunderstood.
"We started this project to address an important problem seen across our industry: kids are getting phones younger and younger, misrepresenting their age, and downloading apps that are meant for those 13 or older," he said in a statement.
"We firmly believe that it's better for parents to have the option to give their children access to a version of Instagram that is designed for them — where parents can supervise and control their experience — than relying on an app's ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID," he added.
"While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we've decided to pause this project."
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'Toxic effects on young people'
The suspension of the project's rollout would give Instagram "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", Mosseri said .
Widely referred to by the unofficial name "Instagram Kids", the initiative has attracted criticism from various groups since reports of its development emerged earlier this year.
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In May, a group of US senators wrote to Facebook urging the social media giant to halt its rollout, accusing it of a "clear record of failing to protect children on its platforms".
Following the Journal revelations regarding potential harms linked to Facebook platforms, senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal announced a hearing focused on the question of protecting children on social media.
Facebook has confirmed that Antigone Davis, its global head of safety, will testify at the hearing.