Online Privacy Expert, Dr Garfield Benjamin on the Pausing of 'Instagram Kids' Plans
“We need safe online spaces for children, just not ones designed by Facebook,” says online privacy expert, Dr Garfield Benjamin
When the plans for a children’s version of Instagram were revealed in March this year, Garfield laid out his thoughts on why the proposals were flawed, explaining that, “Facebook has time and time again shown that it is not capable or willing to truly address the problems of operating a social media platform, so allowing them to define our children’s digital lives as well, is something we need to avoid.”
With the plans now on pause, due to broad criticism, he says: “In some ways it’s a positive result that they are pausing the project. Since Facebook announced the development of an Instagram Kids app in March, so much hasn’t been transparent – the company is continuing to withhold research despite calls to make it public. The Wall Street Journal has drawn attention to the problem, but continued to contribute towards confusion by mis-framing the debate, as Ysabel Gerrard has pointed out.”
“We need platforms, researchers, regulators and the press to move past opaque and oversimplified views of children’s lives online, a plea which echoes the thoughts of other leading experts including Sonia Livingstone and Amy Orben. The narratives we share about our relation to technology are important – they can inform people, provide a hook for action, or cloud complex issues by focusing on small parts of what are far-reaching debates.”
“In the UK, this is further clouded by debates around the proposed online harms regulations, including the power it gives to individual Ministers and a potentially limited view of harms. There are a lot of issues which need to be addressed and measures which need to be in place, as I recommended in this report.”
The broad issues surrounding life online “will require more redesigning and regulating than Facebook would like,” Garfield stated when discussing the issue in April.
He explains how the issue should not only be around safety for children online, saying: “A lot of the proposals for improving online platforms for children are either just properly implementing and enforcing existing regulations, or providing much needed measures to protect everyone online. For example, we need to avoid using a fear of children being online to justify harmful measures like removing anonymity.”
“The ongoing question is whether private platforms, especially ones with Facebook’s track record, should be able to define platforms for children?”
Dr Garfield Benjamin is available for interview and can be contacted through email on Garfield.Benjamin@solent.ac.uk
Dr Garfield Benjamin is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Solent University. His work emphasises the future of society, whether that be distant or imminent, to inform our understanding of the present. Garfield’s research spans cultural theory and creative media practice, focusing on the relation between humans and (digital) technology.