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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Instagram for Kids is both disastrous and inevitable

Falling into social media is unavoidable, but we also have the power to change it 

No one asked for it, but Mark Zuckerberg is here to deliver anyway. Zuckerberg’s announcement to build an “Instagram for Kids” is faced with backlash from 150,000 activists and parents, as well as 40 state attorney generals. Instagram for Kids is created with two goals in mind, according to Vishal Shah, the app’s vice president of product: increasing safety for teenagers and building a safe version of the app for users under 13. 

    However, activists allege that Instagram is using children as “pawns in its war with TikTok for market share.” Parents also argue that pushing Instagram onto kids—even a “kid friendly” version—only serves to expose kids to the toxicity of the app, from the “relentless fear of missing out” to the “never-ending focus on appearance.”

    Meanwhile, state attorney generals cite Facebook’s previous failures to protect kids on their platform, such as Facebook’s Messenger Kids app that allowed children to bypass parental restrictions and chat with strangers due to a design flaw. 

    More so, Instagram for Kids fails to acknowledge a more sinister reality: that an app filled with kids and only kids becomes an accessible paradise for child predators. Instagram for Kids will never accomplish what it tries to create. And while I cannot ascertain its exact motivations, it is obvious that this app comes with more shortcomings than it can—or care to—foresee.

    Instagram for Kids is short-sighted in trying to quarantine kids under 13 from the toxic ideals of its main app. What happens when these kids turn 14 and “graduate” to the main app? If anything, more focus should be placed on reforming the main app to be safer for kids.

As someone close in age to the target audience of Instagram for Kids, there is no appeal in joining a sanitized app when it is so easy to circumnavigate age restrictions on the real deal and secret accounts are easier to hide as kids get more tech-savvy. 

I got my first (carefully monitored) Facebook account at 11 to play games on it, and I joined Instagram in sixth grade. Between the time I was born—2002—to the creation of Instagram in 2010, I spent eight years unaware of an app that would come to hold a lot of power in my life, whether I liked it or not. To find someone completely off the social media grid is a rarity. Shameless as it is, yes I do care about my followers-to-following ratio and how many likes on a picture I get, and I have found validation from the app.

And, for the next generation after me—the very generation that Instagram for Kids is targeting—I can only imagine how much more pronounced these effects will be, to be born into an age of social media and not know of a time without it. Activists, parents and politicians are right to call out Instagram for Kids. However, there is an inevitability that comes with social media that we need to accept.

Instagram for Kids is not a gateway into the hazards of social media, especially for a generation that does not know a time without it. As a member of Generation Z, Instagram was created in 2010, and I was still able to distinguish between a time where it was not a “necessity” for me to document every fun moment of my life onto a square grid. For Generation Alpha that was born into the Instagram era, I imagine it is hard, almost impossible, to escape from social media’s sphere of influence.

Accepting that social media is inevitable allows us to redefine our approaches in combating the more toxic aspects of Instagram culture. Instagram is an app that changes within itself constantly. The creators of Instagram, in their first-ever Instagram post, break all the “unwritten rules” we see today on Instagram. Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger’s shot of a marina, from its tilted angle to the somber Instagram filter and lack of caption betrays the typical Instagram shot you would find today, where photos are curated rather than spontaneous. 

If the original intent of Instagram can escape the people that created it, there is a degree of malleability to the app. However, the persistent curated, fear-of-missing-out culture Instagram has created is reflective of our own priorities in the current digital landscape. Movements such as “Make Instagram Casual Again,” moving toward its original goal of uncurated spontaneity, become aestheticized because although we are posting different pictures on the ‘gram, our priorities still remain the same.

Choosing to not participate in social media is an acknowledgement of its influence—and this comes with consequences. During the pandemic, social media played a big role in forming connections in college, from using Facebook groups to find roommates to Discord for classes to Instagram and Snapchat for group chats. You can tether yourself away from social media, but you run the risk of shutting yourself out from a world that is already dependent on it.

Given the interconnectedness of social media and our lives, we need to redefine social media to align with our individual motivations—are we able to break the status quo? Are we able to use social media in a meaningful way?  Social media may be inevitable, and the pressures of social media will continue, but more thoughtful use of social media will not be changed by a ploy from big tech companies, nor can it be changed by avoiding it altogether. 

Written by: Renee Wang — reswang@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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