Hide yo’ kids

Contrary to what Facebook would have you to believe, no one needs a childproof Instagram. Plus: A case study in criminal justice reform and a book that rejects the meritocracy myth.

Last week at a joint congressional hearing on misinformation and disinformation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked to explain the benefit of Instagram Kids, a version of the social app for children under the age of 13 that’s currently in development. “I think helping people stay connected with friends and learn about different content online is broadly positive,” the 36-year-old billionaire and father of two said. “I think something like this could be quite helpful for a lot of people.” (Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman at BuzzFeed News were the first to report Facebook’s plans to launch Instagram Kids.)

Though details are in short supply, you can probably expect Instagram kids to replicate much of the template Facebook designed when it launched Messenger Kids in 2017. Parents control their kids’ contacts from a dashboard and can message and video chat with kids via the Messenger app. Kids can add filters, reactions and sound effects to customize video chats and express themselves with stickers, GIF and drawing tools. They can also block and report users; doing so notifies their parents. “When you think about things at scale that we do to get people to care more about Messenger, this is one that addresses a real need for parents,” David Marcus, Facebook’s head of Messenger said when the app launched without explaining what the “real need” Messenger Kids addressed for parents. “But the side effect will be that [kids] use Messenger more and create family groups.” Messenger Kids doesn’t sell in-app purchases or ads and Facebook declined to comment when asked if IG kids will serve personalized ads or show public follower and like counts on posts.

Instagram Kids is a consequence of Facebook’s growth-at-all-costs biz model. It has over three billion global users across its family of apps. But to extend its scale, it's looking to transform kids into lifelong FB users and position its apps as family-friendly connection tools instead of the advertising products they are. It’s also another example of how tech companies conflate social apps with the social internet. What tech companies hope you ignore is that it’s totally possible for parents to create well-adjusted digital-savvy youngsters without training them to think the only — or best — spaces for connection, discovery or expression are on multibillion-dollar marketing platforms.

Editor’s Note: In a special subscriber-only Sunday issue of The Supercreator, I’ll publish exclusive interviews with parents, educators and experts who share their unfiltered thoughts on Instagram Kids. If you haven’t done so already, subscribe to get it delivered straight to your inbox.


A case study in criminal justice reform: Last Friday Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would no longer prosecute drug possession, sex work, minor traffic violations and other low-level offenses after violent crime dropped 20 percent and property crime declined 36 percent. “Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses, Mosby, who stopped pursuing these infractions last year to reduce COVID-19’s spread within jails and prisons. “Our understanding is that the police are going to follow what they’ve been doing for the past year, which is not arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned.”

The downturn happened while 39 percent fewer people entered the city’s criminal justice system in the one-year period and 20 percent few people went to jail due to Mosby’s office dismissing more than 1,400 pending cases and 1,4000 warrants for nonviolent crimes. Mosby said the city will partner with a local behavioral health service to connect with vulnerable communities and direct them into treatment instead of into handcuffs. “For generations, we’ve been asked to be all things to all people,” Baltimore police commissioner Michael Harrison said. “That never should have happened.

What often gets ignored in these discussions is how affluent families have applied their wealth and influence to avoid the very pipeline these low-level prosecutions force Black and brown families into. It’s high time we reform our criminal justice system to focus on prevention, rehabilitation and healing instead of inequitable punishment. Here’s to hoping other cities follow suit.


In The Know

CULTURE: Verzuz partnered with fitness brand Peloton to launch a collection of themed workouts set to a specific artist’s catalog or new album. Round one of the series will feature songs by Brandy and Monica. [Jem Aswad / Variety]

CORONAVIRUS: The US reported 62,000 new cases on Saturday, up from fewer than 50,000 on March 11. Dr. Fauci says the uptick is due to virus variants, travel and eased restrictions. [Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce / Business Insider]

POLITICS: Millennials like Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg a new generation of politicians who are claiming power and disrupting Washington’s status quo. [Alex Seitz-Wald / NBC News]

BUSINESS: Issa Rae signed a new five-year deal with WarnerMedia. The $40-million partnership gives HBO, HBO Max and Warner Bros. exclusive rights to the creator’s work in TV and film. [Angelique Jackson / Variety]

TECH: Snap, YouTube and Pinterest have seen sustained growth during the pandemic, according to research firm Apptopia. Zoom, on the other hand, has plateaued. [Brody Ford / Bloomberg]


The trillion-dollar victim: As the deadline for mail-in ballots to unionize 5,800 Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama approaches, Amazon has found itself embroiled in a bizarre public Twitter feud with progressive senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who criticize the company for paying too few taxes and poorly compensating its employees. “I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace,” Dave Clark, who leads Amazon’s consumer business, tweeted. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.”

Turns out, according to Jason Del Rey at Vox, all that tough talk was the result of outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos’s bruised ego. “[Bezos] expressed dissatisfaction in recent weeks that company officials weren’t more aggressive in how they pushed back against criticisms of the company that he and other leaders deem inaccurate or misleading. What followed was a series of snarky and aggressive tweets that ended up fueling their own media cycles.” The tweets were so unusual that an Amazon security engineer filed a support ticket citing “Suspicious activity on @amazonnews Twitter account.”

It’s ironic that the richest person in the world and founder of a $1.5 trillion company feels victimized by a smattering of critical reporters and politicians. The reality, as I wrote last year, is that it’s Bezos and his relentless “customer obsession” that have marginalized the interests of the company’s working class — who pick, pack, ship and deliver millions of items purchased each day and “are fundamental to the perception that this massive operation runs without a hitch.” The Supercreator is proud to stand with the Amazon workers in Bessemer and across the country who are demanding the second-largest private employer treat them with respect and dignity.


Read All About It

Ryan Sides at Monograph on Lil Nas X and MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name):

To start, LNX is provocative and overt with the messaging in this song in a way that's largely been accessible only to artists who've had notably less to say. The video tells the story of waking up innocent and unaware, being made to believe a thing about yourself is evil and that you're hellbound because of it, followed by the acceptance-turned-embrace of your darkest parts and the conquering power that brings. This isn't a story that's specific to Nas X or Black queer men, but goddamn if I didn't take it personal how clear he is about who he's speaking for.

Katy Waldman at The New Yorker on the rise of therapy speak:

But confession can also become a class performance. (Think of Woody Allen’s Manhattanites, talking endlessly about their shrinks.) In the United States, basic mental-health care remains a luxury item; there’s a reason that the most fluent speakers of the trending argot tend to be wealthy and white. This may explain some of the irritation that therapy-speak occasionally provokes: the words suggest a sort of woke posturing, a theatrical deference to norms of kindness, and they also show how the language of suffering often finds its way into the mouths of those who suffer least. In 2019, for instance, a much-mocked Twitter thread offered a template for turning down a friend’s request for help. “Hey! I’m so glad you reached out,” it read. “I’m actually at capacity/helping someone else who’s in crisis/dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I don’t think I can hold appropriate space for you. Could we connect [later date or time] instead/Do you have someone else you could reach out to?” The technical vocabulary, the holding (or not) of appropriate space, did read as slightly unfeeling, but people seemed more annoyed at such a strenuous attempt to avoid a sad pal.

Renee DiResta and Tobias Rose-Stockwell at WIRED on how to stop misinformation before it gets shared:

As we reimagine a more trustworthy social web, we can rethink the relationship between velocity and virality. Low-velocity content can still go viral: a good book we share with our friends, say, or a word-of-mouth recommendation for a film. One way in which we might do this is having a system in which rapidly or broadly spreading content is temporarily throttled by platforms to allow fact-checkers time to assess it. This need not apply to all viral content; it could be tailored topics that are most likely to cause harm: politics, health, or breaking news. It’s a model that other industries use—Wall Street exchanges, for example, use circuit breakers to help the public appropriately digest emerging information to avoid stocks going haywire.

Charlotte Klein at Vanity Fair on female journalists and online harassment:

No journalist is above criticism. But what female journalists described to me goes beyond legitimate scrutiny of a headline or story framing and into their sex lives, their families, and other topics unrelated to their work, a wildly disproportionate level of pushback to any perceived journalistic offense. The old newsroom motto “don’t feed the trolls” seems increasingly quaint as top editors and media executives grapple with how and when to respond publicly to the deluge of smears filling a reporter’s inbox or chasing them across social media. “The environment for journalists is getting increasingly dangerous,” Ginsberg said. If not heralding a new era of how media organizations deal with attacks on female reporters, recent statements from the Post and TheNew York Timesreflect the extent to which the problem has worsened, particularly for women on the male-dominated beats of politics and technology.

Hannah Giorgis at The Atlantic on Tina Turner and her new (very enjoyable!) HBO documentary:

The struggle of navigating public life as a high-profile Black woman musician has been explored in other recent works: The December documentary Billie and the February biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday both track the blues singer’s contentious relationship with the media and the music industry. And like those films, past documentaries and biopics about Whitney Houston and Nina Simone, in addition to forthcoming works about Aretha Franklin, all lack an element that differentiates Tina: the subject’s voice. In works of biographical entertainment, the impulse for an artist to control their own narrative can lead to hagiographies that strip their subjects of unflattering histories. But, like the biopic and musical before it, Tina doesn’t avoid the darker chapters of the star’s life. Framed as Turner’s farewell to public life, the documentary instead allows her to define her story in its totality, in part by revisiting—and in some cases rewriting—the eras in which others wrote it for her.

Emily VanDerWerff at Vox on Superstore, the best sitcom of its era:

Too many series as poignant as Superstore lean so far into their poignancy that they tilt over into outright treacle — saccharine and self-satisfied dives into uber-happy silliness. Superstore never did that, because its characters’ conflicts were rarely with each other (and even when they were, they usually didn’t last very long). Instead, their chief antagonists were the larger structures of capitalism and the 21st century United States. The store itself often functioned as an island that felt isolated from the world’s problems, a place where its workers could hang out and build long-lasting friendships. But Cloud 9 wasn’t invulnerable to the world’s problems. Its mere existence, more K-mart than Target, felt tenuous. Sooner or later, the capitalist Grim Reaper was coming for Cloud 9, too.


Michael’s Pick

The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans—and How We Can Fix It by Dorothy A. Brown($25): This book is the newest in a growing genre that dismantles one of American capitalism’s most stubborn myths: That one’s success is exclusively determined by their talent, effort and achievement.