Reverends, rabbis and other religious leaders urged Meta Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to permanently stop the company’s plan for an Instagram version aimed at young users on Tuesday, in a letter sent by advocacy group Fairplay and their Children’s Screen Time Action Network.
Since last September, Instagram has paused its plans to introduce a version of the photo-sharing app for kids, as opposition to the project grew.
“After much meditation and prayer, we assert that social media platforms that target immature brains, practice unethical data mining, and are inspired by profit motives are not a tool for the greater good of children,” said the letter, which was signed by more than 70 religious leaders.
Instagram and its parent company, Meta Platforms formerly Facebook, have come under intense scrutiny over the potential impact of their services on the mental health, body image and safety of young users, including after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents about the company’s approach to younger users.
In December, Instagram head Adam Mosseri was grilled about children’s online safety by a Senate panel. A coalition of state attorneys general has also opened a probe into Meta for promoting Instagram to children despite potential harms.
Meta has said the leaked documents have been used to paint a false picture of the company’s work. It has also said the idea of Instagram for kids was to give a safer, dedicated place for younger users to engage with the service.
Instagram, like other social media sites, has rules against children under 13 joining the platform but said it knows it has users under this age.
The letter from the faith groups, which quoted the Bible, Qur’an, Pope Francis and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, called on Zuckerberg, as someone who has in the past said religion is “very important,” to recognize spiritual as well as secular concerns about the project.
Instagram declined to comment on the letter.
Reuters reported last year on Meta’s concerted outreach to the religious community in its efforts to drive engagement on its platforms. The company, which has a dedicated faith partnerships team, launched a new feature to request and send prayers on the site, sent out mini equipment kits for streaming worship during the Covid19 pandemic, and last year held its first virtual faith summit.