Facebook may be "pausing" its development of an Instagram for kids, amid criticism that the app can be harmful to teens — but don't expect the social media giant's plans to disappear without a fight.
On Monday, Instagram head Adam Mosseri defended his company's efforts while announcing the move in a blog post. Building an Instagram Kids platform for children ages 10-12 is still "the right thing to do," Mosseri wrote.
The pause comes on the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal investigation, which found that Instagram is harmful to many teenagers, especially teenage girls. According to the investigation, Facebook's own internal research showed that among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the issue to Instagram.
After the report's publication, lawmakers called on Facebook to abandon its plan for Instagram Kids. In defending the plan, Mosseri noted that a platform with guardrails could help the many young children who are already online, "misrepresenting their age" to use apps meant for older people.
"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 wrote.
Indeed, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 37, has a track record of letting his own young children use at least one of his social media company's platforms.
In 2019, Zuckerberg told Fox News' "The Daily Briefing" that he's allowed his two daughters — Maxima, 6, and August, 4 — to use Facebook's video chat product, Portal, since they were 2 years old.
"I let my kids use that to communicate with my parents, so they can stay in touch with their grandparents easily, [and] their aunts who live across the country," Zuckerberg said.
Though Zuckerberg admitted he generally doesn't want his children sitting in front of a TV or computer for long periods of time, he said using a video chat product like Portal could have health benefits for some children. Zuckerberg did not respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment by the time of publication.
When it comes to how screen time and social media affect children, research can be conflicting.
Nine- and 10-year-olds who spend lots of time in front of screens are only "slightly" more likely to have attention disorders, interrupted sleep and lower grades than their peers, according to a study published in scientific journal PLOS ONE on Sept. 8.
Researchers didn't find a link between screen time and high levels of depression and anxiety in children, and found that kids who spent more time with screens had more close friends.
Studies about social media specifically, however, are more of a mixed bag. According to the Wall Street Journal's investigation, Facebook's internal research has linked Instagram to teenage eating disorders, body image issues and depression.
An International Journal of Eating Disorders study from March suggests some of those same issues could manifest even earlier, in 9- and 10-year-olds.
In 2016, a group of researchers reviewed 70 studies on social media and children's mental health, all published between 2005 and 2016. Their report, published in the Journal of Mental Health, found that some adolescent social media users were happier and more connected with other people — while others reported more signs of depression or anxiety.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the nature of Mosseri's blog post, and that Portal is a video chat device.