Any attempt by Facebook to create an Instagram for children under the age of 13 should be viewed similarly to Big Tobacco’s use of lolly cigarettes to attract teenagers, a marketing expert has said.
Buzzfeed received an internal memo from Instagram executives last month detailing the social media giant’s intentions to build a version of its iconic social media app specifically designed for young children.
Dr Torgeir Aleti, an RMIT University lecturer in economics and marketing, expressed concern over the memo’s focus on “youth work as a target for Instagram.”
“Instagram will probably view their concept as Lego, and therefore this is their Duplo edition,” he said, referring to the toy brand’s entry level brick kit.
“However, I view (Instagram for children under the age of 13) as lolly cigarettes. “This is very simple marketing,” he said, “the younger you reach customers, the more loyal they will be throughout their lives.”
Dr Aleti characterized the initiative as a “stepping stone to hooking young children,” similar to how Big Tobacco was connected to the now-banned lolly cigarettes.
At the moment, children must be at least 13 years old to use Instagram.
Buzzfeed obtained an internal memo written by Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product, on an employee message board.
“I’m excited to announce that going forward, Instagram has prioritized youth work and has added it to our H1 priority list,” Mr Shah wrote.
“We’re establishing a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens, and (b) developing a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to use it safely for the first time.” contacted Facebook, but they declined to comment on whether Instagram was advancing.
Last week, an Australian lobby group claimed to have discovered a Facebook loophole that allowed advertisers to target teenagers based on a variety of age-inappropriate interests, including alcohol, smoking, gambling, and extreme weight loss.
Reset Australia produced a series of advertisements to call attention to Facebook’s lack of control over underage profiling.
According to the study, Facebook approved advertisements targeting teens for smoking, cocktail recipes, political extremism, extreme weight loss, and adult dating.
“Should a 13-year-old who indicates that they are single receive targeted advertisements for a sugar daddy dating service?” Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia, said.
“Should a 15-year-old identified as an alcoholic see advertisements suggesting cocktail recipes based on the contents of their parent’s liquor cabinet?”
He claimed that 16-year-olds should not be exposed to advertisements for gambling or political extremism.
When contacted by 9News.com.au, a representative for Facebook did not deny that Reset Australia was able to reach teenagers with the advertisements.
The spokesperson said that “it is important to keep young people healthy on Facebook and Instagram.”
According to the spokesperson, Facebook had “important steps in place” to check all advertising before and after they ran, including automated systems and human reviewers.
“Anyone advertising on our channels must adhere to our policies as well as all applicable local laws and codes, such as those in Australia prohibiting the advertising of alcoholic beverages to minors.”
To complement this, we have age restriction tools that all companies can use to monitor who sees their content.” Dr Aleti said parents and community had “completely reason to be worried” about Reset Australia’s experiments with Facebook advertising, which the lobby group did not disclose.
What worried him the most, he said, was “how quickly it was accomplished.”
He said regulatory action against Facebook and other Silicon Valley social media behemoths was “long overdue.”
Facebook recorded 3.45 billion monthly users across its family of applications, which includes Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, last week when it released its first-quarter earnings.
Additionally, the company stated that it was bracing for “ad targeting headwinds” at the end of the year.
These comments are suspected to be in response to Apple’s latest privacy updates in iOS 14, which would make it more difficult for Facebook to harvest user data.