By Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN Business
Facebook on Tuesday reaffirmed its intention to build an Instagram for kids under 13, despite pressure from lawmakers to back down on the plan, while simultaneously announcing new updates to address concerns about the safety of younger users on its platforms.
In a blog post, the company said it is developing “a new Instagram experience for tweens” managed by parents and guardians as part of its efforts to “reduce the incentive for people under the age of 13 to lie about their age.”
“The reality is that they’re already online, and with no foolproof way to stop people from misrepresenting their age, we want to build experiences designed specifically for them, managed by parents and guardians,” the post said.
In March, BuzzFeed News obtained an internal Instagram memo stating the company had “identified youth work as a priority” and was planning to build a version specifically intended for kids.
In May, 44 attorneys general signed a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to scrap plans for an Instagram intended for younger users, citing mental health and privacy concerns. The letter came less than a month after child safety groups and Congress expressed similar concerns.
Facebook’s plan to continue with the development of an Instagram for kids, reportedly called Instagram Youth, was tucked into an announcement around adding more safety measures to the popular photo-sharing platform. This includes setting the accounts of users under age 16 to private by default to cut down on unwanted interactions with strangers and limiting how advertisers target the demographic.
Marketers can no longer reach young users based on their interests or activity on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. They can, however, still use age, gender or location for targeted ads.
Facebook also said it plans to use artificial intelligence to verify the age of its users and remove underage accounts. For example, the tool would allow it to search for keywords in Instagram posts, such as a happy birthday message, and cross reference it with the user’s birth date registered on Facebook.
Facebook has long been criticized for how it enforces age restrictions across it platforms. Prior to 2019, it only asked users to confirm they were over the age of 13 and later required their date of birth during the registration process.
“We plan to apply this technology across our apps to create more age-appropriate experiences and safety measures for young people,” said the blog post.
Facebook also said it plans to work with lawmakers, elected officials and child development and safety experts across its various efforts.
Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay, a child advocacy group formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, called Facebook’s effort to address the concerns about safety and advertising practices toward young people “a step in the right direction.” But he said “full transparency around how they are implemented” is needed.
“The fact that Facebook appears to be offering better safeguards for teens, however, does not change the fact that Instagram Youth is a terrible idea and will do more harm than good,” Golin said. “It is extremely disappointing that Facebook is planning on plowing ahead despite the outcry from lawmakers, regulators, experts, advocates and hundreds of thousands of parents.”
“The safest Instagram for younger children remains no Instagram at all,” he added.
In a conversation on the Breakfast Club radio show Tuesday, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said he knew its Instagram for kids efforts would “get a lot of heat” but called it “the right thing to do, so we gotta do it.”
“It leaked before we were ready to talk about it, so we don’t have a lot of the answers yet, but it is definitely something that we’re working on because it’s something I personally believe will be a much healthier, safer place,” he said.
This isn’t Facebook’s first time showing interest in developing a kid-friendly version of one of its services. It previously launched Messenger Kids for users ages six to 12.
The company has not yet revealed when it will launch an Instagram version for kids.
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Kerry Flynn contributed to this report.