40% of kids under 13 already use Instagram and some are experiencing abuse and sexual solicitation, a report finds, as the tech giant considers building an Instagram app for kids (FB)

Mark Zuckerberg, FacebookAP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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Forty-five percent of kids under the age of 13 already use Facebook daily while 40% of children surveyed in that age group use Instagram, according to a report from the nonprofit Thorn.

The study, first reported on by Casey Newton for The Verge, comes after 40 state attorneys general wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to abandon the company's plans to build a version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13. Thorn surveyed 1,000 minors between the ages of nine and 17 in 2020 and released its findings in the new study.

As Facebook's and Facebook-owned Instagram's rules stand now, kids under the age of 13 are not permitted to join the platforms without adult supervision. But the report suggests that children under that age are already on the apps, and that the apps that are absent of protections fit for kids in that age group.

Thirty-six percent of kids under the age of 13 who were surveyed said they encountered potentially harmful experiences online, including sexual interaction, according to the report. And 26% of kids surveyed reported potentially harmful experiences on Instagram. Instagram, as well as Snapchat, saw the highest concentration of sexually explicit interactions between minors and adults, per Thorn.

In a statement shared with Insider, a Facebook spokesperson said "We've made meaningful progress on these issues, including restricting Direct Messages between teens and adults they don't follow on Instagram, helping teens avoid unwanted chats with adults, making it harder for adults to search for teens, improving reporting features, and updating our child safety policies to include more violating content for removal."

Children under the age of 13 were also active on Snapchat and Tiktok, and 78% of those surveyed were using YouTube on a daily basis. Many kids between the ages of nine and 17 received abuse, harassment, and sexual solicitation from peers and adults on the platforms, according to Thorn's research. Minors in the LGBTQ community were found to experience more harmful experiences online than non-LGBTQ kids.

The letter sent to Zuckerberg this week emphasized the role that social media has on the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of children "who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account." 

Read more: Mark Zuckerberg outlined new tools Instagram is building to help creators make money

Zuckerberg downplayed the harm that social media poses to kids during a March Congressional hearing, though he acknowledged that he was "aware of the issues" surrounding children's health online.

Zuckerberg said, "There is clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would want to use a service like Instagram," as Mashable reported.

Facebook's competitors have makes similar moves to cater to that age group. YouTube, which is owned by Google, launched its YouTube Kids platform in 2015 for children under 13 and was reportedly investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 over its handling of kids' videos. Despite the kid-centric version, the majority of children had been using the regular YouTube app to access the service, as Insider reported in 2019.

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