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Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat for Kids? Law Enforcement: "Just say No."

Facebook has already promised to abandon a planned "Instagram for children" project that was pretty controversial anyway. But it's pretty clear that regulators are catching on, and, well - let's just say there's probably a pretty good reason investors have put so much pressure on FB shares.

For the past several quarters (and well long before this), Facebook has been developing social media applications aimed specifically at children.

Lawmakers have a message for Facebook: Stop the kids’ version of Instagram before it starts.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) as well as Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Lori Trahan (D-MA) released a statement urging Facebook to halt its plans to launch an Instagram app built for children under the age of 13.

“Facebook has a clear record of failing to protect children on its platforms,” the lawmakers said in the statement on Tuesday. “When it comes to putting people before profits, Facebook has forfeited the benefit of the doubt, and we strongly urge Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for kids.”

The lawmakers join a growing number of critics who say that Facebook should not roll out such an app, citing the company’s own record and concerns about child well-being. Earlier in May, 44 attorneys general from US states and territories also called for Facebook to halt its plans, telling the company in a letter that “Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one.”

Public health experts had previously urged Facebook to leave behind its plans for a new version of Instagram targeted at kids under 13. Such a plan, these groups said in a letter sent in April, would “put young users at great risk,” arguing that Facebook isn’t ready to introduce and oversee an app that could have such a powerful influence over young children.

The new app, which Facebook has said will not include ads, is being designed for children under the minimum age for Instagram, which is 13. Facebook also says it’s trying to find new methods, including using artificial intelligence, to confirm that users on the main Instagram platform aren’t under 13. That age restriction is a product of a 1998 law called the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), which establishes more stringent requirements and potential financial liabilities for online platforms that collect personal information about users under 13 without their parents’ consent. Child safety experts worry that social media poses additional threats to young children, too.

“Instagram’s focus on photo sharing and appearance makes the platform particularly unsuitable for children who are in the midst of crucial stages of developing their sense of self,” the organizations, which include the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and ParentsTogether Action, told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the letter. “Children and teens (especially young girls) have learned to associate overly sexualized, highly edited photos of themselves with more attention on the platform and popularity among their peers.”

Social media built for kids could violate young peoples’ privacy and create an increased risk of depression, among a wide variety of other potential harms.

“During the pandemic, I have heard countless stories from parents of elementary-aged children about high-drama and problematic interactions happening over social media that kids weren’t developmentally ready for,” said Jenny Radesky, a pediatrics professor at the University of Michigan’s medical school, in an April statement. “An Instagram for kids is the last thing they need.”

Members of Congress have expressed concern that these apps have become addictive, are harmful to young people’s mental health and self-esteem, and endanger children’s privacy. At the same time, tech companies are grappling with the reality that kids under 13, who are technically not allowed on their platforms, manage to gain access anyway.

The debate over kids on social media was reignited following a report in March that Facebook was in the early stages of building an under-13 Instagram app.

Even if social media giants (temporarily) halt development of applications targeted directly at children, you're not out of the woods. Not by a long shot. Parents believe that they can circumvent the dangers of social media while still engaging in the applications themselves. Research shows that, despite the best efforts to shield their loved ones from the toxicity of social media abuse, it is nearly impossible to prevent children from using these applications when caregivers themselves are immersed. The analogy is that of substance abuse, wherein parents are using an addictive substance themselves and then setting an example for their children by continuous usage.

It's not rocket science, folks. Get out while you still can. And stay out.

Snapchat's danger

Berman posted an emotional tribute to her late son on Instagram on February 8, 2021. Berman said that her son had passed away and despite being sheltered at home, was contacted by a drug dealer on Snapchat and gave him fentanyl laced Xanax and unfortunately overdoses in his own room.

#Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is the same as morphine but it is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIH. Synthetic drugs like fentanyl are the most common drugs that are involved in overdose deaths.

According to the National Safety Council, people are more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than a car crash.

Berman noted that her son Sam was a straight-A student and that she and her husband monitored him closely. At the time of Sammy's death, he was getting ready for college and he was planning for his future.

Berman wrote that what happened to her son was experimentation gone bad and that he got the drugs delivered to the house. She reminded parents to watch their children and watch Snapchat because that is how dealers get to children.

Dr. Berman has now started a Facebook group for parents called "Parents for Safer Children" that focuses on parents who have been affected by their children's addiction and those who want to know how to protect their children from drugs.

Drug trade on Snapchat

Fentanyl is not the only drug that is prevalent on social media, especially Snapchat. Teens can also buy cocaine, marijuana and MDMA on the platform as the dealers target them specifically.

In "D.S.M. 7", law enforcement describes how drug dealers reach out to children and they find it common to see ads about drugs on social media. Teens are reporting that drug dealers randomly add them and if they accept, they will slide into their DMs and offer them drugs. Drug dealers are called plugs and they use the plug emoji for identification.
The plugs add people on Snapchat and they categorize their victims by zip code. The drug dealers do not have a limit and they sell it anyone, no matter the age. The method of plugging is used to get a lot of potential customers.

The teens said that people will swipe up on the post and they will send a text under the post. The drug dealers will see the text, they'll discuss details like the order and the payment, and they will agree to meet somewhere. Most of the drugs sold on Snapchat are vape cartridges that are laced with THC.

Sgt. Dough Howell from Utah's County Sheriff's Office is focused on drug arrests. He said that drug dealers nowadays are no longer in the streets, waiting for customers, they are now online posting advertisements on social media, and they will post pictures of their products.

Sgt. Howell said that social media is used in 90% of their drug busts. He said that it is easy for them to spot dealers online because it is just out in the open.

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