Leaked Facebook Papers reveal social media giant targeted children as young as 6-years-old

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The leaked Facebook Papers revealed the social media giant was working to target children as young as 6 years old to expand its consumer base and generate greater profits for the tech titan. 

An internal blog post published on April 9 announced that the company was in the process of hiring employees to re-envision its full range of products for kids ages 6-9 and tweens ages 10-12. The company currently already targets children starting at 13 years old. 

The post, titled ‘The internet wasn’t built with young people in mind, but we’re about to change that,’ was among documents released by whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal team and provided to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission that has become known as the Facebook Papers. 

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‘Our company is making a major investment in youth and has spun up a cross-company virtual team to make safer, more private, experiences for youth that improve their and their household’s well-being,’ the blog post read, according to NBC News.  

‘For many of our products, we historically haven’t designed for under 13.’  

An internal blog post listing new jobs for researchers shows Facebook's plans to begin targeting children as young as 6-years-old (Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg listens as Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, not pictured, speaks during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California on September 27, 2015)

An internal blog post listing new jobs for researchers shows Facebook’s plans to begin targeting children as young as 6-years-old (Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg listens as Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, not pictured, speaks during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California on September 27, 2015)

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The company changed its corporate name to Meta on Thursday as it attempts to rebrand itself after the Facebook Papers highlighted other troubling accusations against the social media titan, including incentives to promote hate and misinformation, a list of high-profile people who can skirt censorship, and even human trafficking. 

The leaked post discusses the five different groups Facebook plans to establish: kids 6 to 9 years old, tweens 10 to 12 years old, early teens from 13 to 15 years old, late teens from 16 to 17 years old, and adults 18 and above.

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‘These five age groups can be used to define education, transparency, controls and defaults that will meet the needs of young users,’ the post states. It then goes on to cite the Age Appropriate Design Code (AADC)- a new statutory code that will apply to the company’s products in Europe. 

In the post, Facebook stated that they had kickstarted the project with several researched but were looking to hire people who had a background in ‘global research among youth (particularly kids, tweens, and their caregivers)’ and ‘partnering with external parties (e.g. academic, policymakers, regulators, child advocates). 

Open positions are listed for Privacy Research, Instagram Child Safety and Family Center, MK Youth Research, Instagram Youth Research, Instagram Youth Overall, Instagram Child Safety, and Messenger Kids/Youth Platform- Messenger Kids is a video calling and messaging app created by Facebook that is currently available in app stores. (Facebook owns Instagram)

A diagram titled Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going outlines how the company plans to expand beyond’s Facebook’s current target market to reach kids and tweens. 

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The internal blog post explained that the social media giant had begun research to create two new target age groups: kids ages 6-9 and tweens ages 10-12 (Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, and describing new features  designed to keep children safe on April 30, 2019)

The internal blog post explained that the social media giant had begun research to create two new target age groups: kids ages 6-9 and tweens ages 10-12 (Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, and describing new features  designed to keep children safe on April 30, 2019)

Youngsters aged from 10 to 12 were described as a valuable 'untapped audience' in previously leaked Facebook documents as part of the Facebook Papers

Youngsters aged from 10 to 12 were described as a valuable ‘untapped audience’ in previously leaked Facebook documents as part of the Facebook Papers

Facebook put together a team to explore how to encourage young people to use their platforms. The internal blog posted in April showed the team was expanding

Facebook put together a team to explore how to encourage young people to use their platforms. The internal blog posted in April showed the team was expanding

The company acknowledges the Federal Trade Commission’s current regulations, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which imposes requirements on online services when dealing with children under 13-years-old. 

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While the new diagram shows that Facebook will now be targeting users under 13 years of age, it doesn’t explain how they will manage COPPA.  

A spokesperson for Facebook responded to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on the leaked post saying: ‘Companies that operate in a highly competitive space — including the Wall Street Journal — make efforts to appeal to younger generations. Considering that our competitors are doing the same thing, it would actually be newsworthy if Facebook didn’t do this work.’ 

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, has defended the social media's attempts to reach children

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, has defended the social media’s attempts to reach children

Instagram has paused plans to build a similar app specifically for children under 13-years-old

Instagram has paused plans to build a similar app specifically for children under 13-years-old

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Facebook research shown last March displaying how Instagram is harming young people

Facebook research shown last March displaying how Instagram is harming young people 

THE DATA FACEBOOK WAS SHOWN ON HOW INSTAGRAM HARMED YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS 

Question of the things you’ve felt in the last month, did any of them start on Instagram? Select all that apply

Not attractive

41% (US)

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43% (UK)

 Don’t have enough money

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42% (US)

42% (UK)

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 Don’t have enough friends

32% (US)

33% (UK)

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 Down, sad or depressed

10% (US)

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13% (UK)

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 Wanted to kill themselves

6% (US)

13% (UK)

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 Wanted to hurt themselves

9% (US)

7% (UK)

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Question: In general, how has Instagram affected the way you feel about yourself, your mental health? 

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Much worse

US boys and girls: 3%

US boys: 2%

US girls: 3% 

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UK total: 2%

UK boys: 1%

UK girls: 2% 

 Somewhat worse

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US total: 16%

US Boys 12%

US girls: 18% 

 UK total: 19%

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UK boys: 13%

UK girls: 23%

 No effect

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US total: 41%

US boys: 37%

US girls: 43%

UK total: 46%

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UK boys: 50%

UK girls: 44% 

 Somewhat better

US total: 29%

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US boys: 32%

US girls: 29% 

UK total: 28%

UK boys: 31%

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UK girls: 26%

 Much better

US total: 12%

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US boys: 18%

US girls 8%

UK total: 5%

UK boys: 5%

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UK girls: 4%

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Last month, Instagram announced they would halt plans to develop a version of the photo sharing app aimed at children on the heels of a damning study that said the app is harmful to young girls’ body image. 

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Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, defended the project on TODAY: ‘I still firmly believe that it’s a good thing to build a version of Instagram that’s designed to be safe for tweens, but we want to take the time to talk to parents and researchers and safety experts and get to more consensus about how to move forward.’ 

Facebook spokesperson Nkechi Nneji told NBC News that ‘while we’re still hiring these roles, they’ll largely focus on new features we’re building for teens (13-17) and parents.’ 

In other leaked material from Facebook, the company described children ages 10-12 years old as a valuable ‘untapped audience’ and even suggested they could appeal to younger children by ‘exploring playdates as a growth lever.’ 

The Silicon Valley company formed a team to study ways to get tweens – those aged 10 to 12 – to use their platform, after becoming concerned by the threat from rivals such as TikTok and SnapChat.

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‘Why do we care about tweens? They are a valuable but untapped audience.’ said one document from 2020, obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

It continues: ‘Our ultimate goal is message primacy with US Tweens’.

Even ‘young kids’ from 0-4 were included in the chart, suggesting that Facebook may eventually try and recruit infants to their site.

Another slide asked: ‘Is there a way to leverage playdates to drive word of hand/growth among kids?’  

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The leaked Facebook Papers have shed light on a large amount of evidence that former employees have said prove the social media conglomerate is aware of many of their problems including the negative impact it has on its users mental health – specifically young girls.

Previously leaked research reveals that since at least 2019, Facebook has been warned that Instagram harms young girls’ body image.

One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 percent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities. 

Another slide, from a 2019 presentation, said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.

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‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’

Another presentation found that among teens who felt suicidal, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced their suicidal feelings to Instagram.

The research not only reaffirms what has been publicly acknowledged for years – that Instagram can harm a person’s body image, especially if that person is young – but it confirms that Facebook management knew as much and was actively researching it. 

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