Facebook said Monday that it had paused development of an "Instagram Kids" service that would be tailored for children 13 years old or younger, as the social network increasingly faces questions about the app's effect on young people's mental health.
The pullback comes ahead of a congressional hearing this week about internal research conducted by Facebook, and reported in The Wall Street Journal, that showed the company knew of the harmful mental health effects that Instagram was having on teenage girls. The revelations have set off a public relations crisis for the Silicon Valley company and led to a fresh round of calls for new regulation.
Facebook said it still wanted to build an Instagram product intended for children that would have a more "age appropriate experience," but was postponing the plans in the face of criticism.
"This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today," Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post.
With Instagram Kids, Facebook had argued that young people were using the photo-sharing app anyway, despite age-requirement rules, so it would be better to develop a version more suitable for them. Facebook said the "kids" app was intended for those age 10 to 12 and would require parental permission to join, forgo ads and carry more age-appropriate content and features. Parents would be able to control what accounts their child followed.
But since BuzzFeed broke the news earlier this year that Facebook was working on the app, the company has faced scrutiny. Policymakers, regulators, child safety groups and consumer rights groups have argued that it hooks children on the app at a younger age rather than protecting them from problems with the service, including child predatory grooming, bullying and body shaming.
Opposition to Facebook's plans gained momentum this month when The Journal published articles based on leaked internal documents that showed Facebook knew about many of the harms it was causing. Facebook's internal research showed that Instagram, in particular, had caused teen girls to feel worse about their bodies and led to increased rates of anxiety and depression, even while company executives publicly tried to minimize the app's downsides.