‘Instagram Kids Must End Permanently,’ Religious Leaders Plead With Zuckerberg

‘Instagram Kids Must End Permanently,’ Religious Leaders Plead With Zuckerberg
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington on Oct. 23, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)
Naveen Athrappully

Over 75 religious leaders from a variety of faiths have sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling for scrapping the plan to introduce an Instagram version targeting kids under the age of 13, citing emotional, physical, and spiritual damages.

“It may be tempting to ride the wave of cultural commodification and optimistically tout social media as a useful ‘tool.’ But with 72 percent of teens on Instagram and 20 percent on social media for more than five hours a day, an exercise in spiritual discernment becomes necessary,” the letter (pdf) stated.

“After much meditation and prayer, we assert that social media platforms that target immature brains, practice unethical data mining, and are inspired by profit motives are not a tool for the greater good of children.”

The document, dated Feb. 8, was sent by religious leaders from more than 20 faiths and denominations on the Safer Internet Day observed by advocacy group Fairplay.

The letter cited the Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” report and testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to highlight the damage done by Instagram to young people’s minds.

The report had produced several internal Facebook documents warning about the dangers to children. For instance, a 2019 presentation of the company admitted that they are making “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”

The letter quotes from the Bible, Upanishads, and Quran; as well as mystics like Lao Tzu, Rumi, and so on to insist that social media is a struggle against “presence, attention, and stillness.”

“If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself,” the letter quotes Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

It is from such a place of “intense concern” for the spiritual welfare of kids that the religious leaders requested Zuckerberg, “Instagram Kids must end permanently.” The app, if launched, will act as a “catalytic gateway” for kids who will end up facing the same problems that teens using Instagram are already dealing with.

Back in April, a coalition of over 100 organizations and experts led by Fairplay had also written a letter (pdf) asking Facebook to abandon the plan to introduce Instagram for kids.

“Fifty-nine percent of U.S. teens have reported being bullied on social media, an experience which has been linked to increased risky behaviors such as smoking and increased risk of suicidal ideation,” the letter said.

“Adolescent girls report feeling pressure to post sexualized selfies as a means of generating attention and social acceptance from their peers. Additionally, social media platforms including Instagram are rife with child sexual abuse materials and online exploitation of young users.”

In a Sept. 27 blog post, Facebook had announced that it was pausing the Instagram Kids project. However, it did not commit to abandoning the program. Instead, Facebook stated that it will demonstrate the “value and need for this product” to parents, policymakers, and experts.