Aimée Morrison, a professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in social media, said Instagram is not meant for children.
“I think it’s a bad idea no matter how you slice it,” Morrison said. “It’s a dangerous and wide-open space that even adults have trouble evading negative consequences in.”
Morrison said young children can be easily influenced on social media platforms like Instagram.
“We can get a kind of perverted idea of people’s real lives just from what we see on Instagram and that’s particularly dangerous for young people,” she said.
Although children shouldn’t technically be using the current version of Instagram, there are many under the age of 13 already using the platform, which Morrison said shows how difficult age verification can be.
Monique St. Germain, general counsel for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said a lack of age verification is common across several popular platforms.
She is worried Instagram for children will attract adults with ill intentions.
“We’re incredibly concerned that this is even on the table,” St. Germain said.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has seen an 88 per cent increase in reports regarding concerning online behaviour since the beginning of the pandemic, according to St. Germain.
She said harm to children on social media platforms can occur in a number of ways.
“It might be by individuals making contact with children on the platform and engaging with them sexually in some way, or having them create and send a sexual image, it can be through extortion, it can be cyber-bullying that is going on,” St. Germain said. “That is even with the current, sort of standard, which is that you’re not supposed to have an account.”
On Monday, dozens of attorneys general in the U.S. signed a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to abandon the plans for the new platform.
“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,” a portion of the letter said.
A Facebook spokesperson said it regularly releases new features to protect children, such as Instagram’s direct messaging feature to no longer allow adults to message a teen that doesn’t follow them.
The company said products for young people will also reduce the incentive for them to lie about their age.
“As every parent knows, kids are already online. We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing. We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates,” the Facebook spokesperson said.
“We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general. In addition, we commit today to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
Facebook said it doesn’t have a set timeline on launching Instagram for children, but expects it will take a number of months.