In August, Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida dialed into a Zoom call with Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook’s Instagram, and two of his colleagues. Castor said in an interview that the executives “wanted to try to calm the waters” after she had spent months publicly criticizing Instagram’s development of an app for children under the age of 13.
Instagram’s policy ostensibly blocks people under 13 from using the app. But the Instagram leaders told Castor that many were already finding ways to use Instagram by, for instance, lying about their age. A youth version of the app would give parents greater control over what their children saw online. Castor, unconvinced, implored them to abandon the app. From her perspective, Facebook wanted to grow its business empire. Launching the Kids app was similar to how tobacco companies had “surreptitiously marketed to young people through Joe Camel and other ways to get kids hooked early” to “benefit their bottom line,” she said.
On Monday, the company abruptly announced it was pausing work on Instagram Kids. The surprising about-face came after it spent months unsuccessfully trying to sell the idea to politicians, child safety groups and skeptical employees. Scandal consumed the public relations effort and it ultimately proved unwinnable.