By Matt Grossman 

Attorneys general from 44 states and territories urged Facebook Inc. to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children, citing behavioral and privacy concerns about social media's effects on young people

In a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, the officials said that research has painted a grim picture of children's social-media use, referencing links to mental-health problems and bullying.

The letter adds bipartisan weight to pressure that Facebook has faced over its plans for an under-13 Instagram version since March, when Mr. Zuckerberg spoke about the concept in a congressional hearing. In April, Democratic lawmakers also sent Mr. Zuckerberg a letter criticizing the plan.

Facebook now prohibits children under the age of 13 from joining its apps and websites, but Mr. Zuckerberg has acknowledged that many children join by lying about their age.

A Facebook spokesman said Monday that the company would work with regulators and lawmakers as its plans for the Instagram children's version evolve. The company hasn't said when it would launch the service.

"As every parent knows, kids are already online," the spokesman said. "We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing."

The group of attorneys general, which includes the top prosecutors from Texas, New York and California, warned that social media promotes a preoccupation with personal appearance and social status in children.

"Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account," they wrote.

Mr. Zuckerberg said in March that, used with supervision, social media can help young people maintain connections with friends. During a congressional hearing, he said his own children use Messenger Kids, a service the company launched a few years ago to enable youth under age 13 to chat or video call with contacts approved by their parents.

In their letter, the attorneys general rejected that argument, writing, "There are myriad other -- and safer -- ways for young children to connect with family and friends."

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, told The Wall Street Journal last month that the children's platform was in the early stages of planning and would likely give parents tools to monitor children's activity rather than filter the content they can see. The company has also said the version would be free of advertisements.

"The product has to be compelling enough that it's not going to give people a reason to lie about their age," Mr. Mosseri said.

Write to Matt Grossman at matt.grossman@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 10, 2021 14:59 ET (18:59 GMT)

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