Facebook is facing a new adversary in the battle against its proposal to create an Instagram for kids — religious leaders.
A coalition of 75 faith leaders signed a letter to Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — IRS scrapping facial recognition software Peter Thiel stepping down from Meta board These people have been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 panel MORE, CEO of Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta, on Tuesday asking him to ditch permanently plans to create an Instagram platform for kids under 13.
In September, the company said it would put the plans on pause after internal documents leaked by a whistleblower escalated scrutiny on Instagram’s impact on teen and youth users, but it did not go so far as to totally drop the plans — as advocates and lawmakers have pushed for.
The letter acknowledges the concerns raised in the past by experts and whistleblower Frances Haugen, but appeals to Facebook in a different way by highlighting how the plan for the platform undermines values spiritual leaders broadly are trying to instill in children. The letter is part of an effort led by the advocacy groups Fairplay and Children’s Screen Time Action Network.
Its signers write that “countless faith communities emphasize the importance of time spent without distraction,” pointing to the sabbath, silence, yoga, meditation or prayer.
But social media, “with its intentionally addictive algorithms, incessant communication systems, and mass commodification of attention — explicitly counteracts these values,” they wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared with The Hill.
“Children, with growing minds and bodies, need this time for reflection, unprompted encounters, and mindful, attentive play. If not now, then when?” the letter asks.
Signatories also said that social media “undermines the sort of unitive consciousness and empathetic understanding that spiritual paths promote,” with algorithms shuffling users into “boxes and ideological echo chambers” that inflame a “harmful ‘us vs. them’ mentality.”
“Children should not be taught to place people into categories, fighting outrage with outrage online. The path to peace is through patient dialogue, attentive listening, and intentional understanding — ideally in person,” they wrote.
The letter also calls out the Instagram culture of “constant comparison” based on image.
“This artificial stage keeps us at the level of our false self, inflaming ego, nafs, or stoking envy,” they wrote.
The faith leaders also said that many traditions have recognized the “need for distinct stages of spiritual development in childhood” through milestones of life cycles including b’nai mitzvahs, native American vision quests and religious quinceñeras.
The religions, they said, “work to preserve the innocence, holiness, and freedom of those precious years of childhood that precede adolescence,” but social media platforms “largely undermine” those efforts.
“At this precious stage, children benefit from influences that have a vested interest in their wellbeing — addictive algorithms, self absorbed influencers, and advertisers that capitalize on insecurity clearly do not,” they wrote.
A Meta spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Instagram has defended the proposal for a platform for kids under 13. Even while announcing the pause in September, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said “we stand by the need to develop this experience,” but would be pausing it to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators.
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