Information for People Under 18
If you are under 18, you might wonder why we don’t allow people your age to use Studio. What follows is the logic that’s gone into our decision — because there’s been a lot of thinking that’s gone into this policy.
We hope you’ll realize that our age policy is beneficial to your health and happiness. Tech companies that build products and services targeting people your age are knowingly profiting from making you and your friends feel insecure and miserable. After reading our thoughts on this matter, we hope that you will realize that you and your friends shouldn’t be using any social media at all.
Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook — where did it all come from?
Once upon a time, before you were born (well, if you were born after 2002), there was a dorky computer programmer named Jonathan Abrams. He wanted to make money, and he wanted to meet girls, so he came up with the idea for a new sort of dating website. The problem with the existing online dating websites at the time was that they were focused on people who, well, wanted to use an online dating website. In the days when using the Internet required sitting at a computer, this eliminated most “normal” people from the equation.
Abrams had an idea: rather than building a dating website that looked like a dating website, he was going to build a website for “friending” — people would assemble a collection of their friends, and see other people’s friends, and that way everyone would look totally normal and non-creepy and totally not-looking-for-a-date, which would make it easier to find ordinary people to ask out on dates. Abrams thought that once enough people invited their friends, it would be easy to charge for messaging friends-of-friends and create the biggest dating website the world had ever seen. Motivated by the chance to make a lot of money and meet a lot of girls, Abrams quickly programmed his idea, all by himself. He called it Friendster.
Friendster took off right away. Within a month, it had over a million users. Jonathan Abrams could barely handle the crowds, and Friendster would continually go offline while he worked to add servers. While his theory on getting people to show up had worked, the people who showed up seemed to have a different idea of what to do with the website. They started making fake profiles for things they liked, celebrities, all sorts of things; they used their profiles to advertise businesses and promote themselves. Abrams was watching his dream of a fortune in online dating evaporate before his eyes, and he went to war with his users to get rid of the fakes and restore order.
Abrams had proven his genius in creating Friendster, all by himself; he proved his stupidity in going to war against his users, and in ignoring the value in what they were doing. The fake profiles created by people on Friendster represented the things they liked, their interests; this was basically an advertiser’s dream. Other people quickly realized the mistake Abrams was making, which led to an explosion of copycat websites. One website took things to an extreme, making it super-easy to create fake profiles, to customize the look and feel of a profile page, and even made it possible to add music to a profile that automatically played whenever anyone visited it — basically, the opposite of what Jonathan Abrams wanted Friendster to be. The people who built this user-focused service called it, appropriately enough, MySpace.
Now, between the time that MySpace became a big deal — 2005 — and now, a lot of stuff has happened. MySpace’s founders spent too much partying to focus on the service (seriously, don’t do drugs, kids), Facebook showed up on college campuses, and Twitter was created as a super-minimalist way to express yourself in a really short 140-character message (which was the opposite of a super-complex, customized MySpace page). Twitter refused to make it easy to post photos, which everyone wanted to do, so two guys made a filter-and-post-photo-on-Twitter service that they called Instagram, which eventually became bigger than Twitter itself. For the most part, however, everything that you see in social media is just a variation on stuff that was going on in the days of Friendster.
Social networks and social media began with people playing around, not really sure of what would come of any of it. There wasn’t much money to be made off being involved in the field, but the people involved (such as us) believed it would turn out to be something really, really big. Sure enough, at some point the advertisers showed up, and the ad money started rolling in. Billions and billions of dollars of ad money.
Ad money required two things: data, and attention. Advertisers wanted to make sure that their ads were being placed next to people who were actually paying attention to them, and they wanted to have lots of data on the people who were seeing their ads. The people running social networks got to work. Social network companies began hiring all sorts of scientists to help them get more data on their users, and to come up with more ways to keep users paying attention to their products — data scientists to crunch numbers, psychologists to run experiments, and so on. Users of social networking websites became lab rats.
The data that social networks began to collect on their users went way beyond simple collections of interests. By analyzing the way people used their services, social networking companies could figure out the emotional states of their users, whether they were about to break up with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and all sorts of other creepy-seeming things. These data collection programs became a well-known secret within the industry — everyone knew it was happening, but nobody would ever admit to it or talk about it publicly.
With the launch of iPhone and Android phones 10 years ago, these data collection and analysis programs went into overdrive. People were using social networking apps on their phones, all day every day; suddenly companies like Facebook literally knew where most of their users were at any given moment, with whom, and why. No longer limited to people with computers, social networks quickly went from something used by tens of millions of people, to something used by billions of people. Billions of people’s photos, friends, and behavior were being analyzed to figure out how to get their attention and show them advertising.
Once social networks hit smartphones, it quickly became obvious that kids — people like you and your friends — were using these services way more than anyone else. Remember, the companies that operate social networks and social media platforms are data-obsessed, and employ more data scientists and psychologists than any of the world’s research institutes; because of this, it was widely known that kids were literally addicted to using things like Facebook and Instagram. Because these companies were so obsessive about analyzing their users, they were completely aware that the data seemed to show that the use of social media by young people was negatively impacting their mental health. Rates of anxiety, self-harm, and suicide among young people rose in line with the adoption of social media by young people; it didn’t take a genius to suspect a correlation.
You might think that this would be troubling to people who work on social networks. You might think that they would consider putting the brakes on their obsession with collecting data and getting attention from kids, seeing that it was bad for kids’ health. What actually happened was the reverse. Social networking companies — now called social media companies — went to war with each other to see who could come up with products and services that could make kids the most addicted. Hundreds of billions of dollars were being made. Nobody wanted the party to stop.
The obsession that social media companies have with kids hasn’t just negatively impacted the lives of you and your friends. It has also negatively impacted culture. As social media platforms became the dominant form of cultural consumption, things and people that were popular on social media became the most successful things and people in society as a whole. With a focus on creating environments that are addictive for kids, social media has promoted an immature, childish trend in global culture. Cultural success has suddenly found itself stuck in middle school; if you want to be popular on social media, and in society, you basically have to be popular among 15 year old boys. Look around at the most social-media-addicted 15 year old boys you know; do you really think they should be the ones who decide what’s culturally succesful?
If you’ve made it this far, you probably understand why we don’t build products targeting people under 18, and why we hope you will stop using products made by companies that do. Young people should be busy being young, not busy being addicted to useless software that’s literally designed to trap them.
What should you do instead of using stuff like Snapchat or Instagram? Do interesting real-world things. Even if you’re stuck in your room, spend your time drawing, painting, writing, reading, and learning about the world; that will make you a more interesting person, someone with interesting things to talk about and share, when you finally escape from the clutches of your parents. One day you’ll be over 18 — and trust us, it will happen far too quickly, and far too soon — and then you can join us on Studio.
We know our policy is going to deprive us of hundreds of millions of users. There a lot of kids out there, and they love using photo and video apps like Studio. At the same time, however, we would rather have you as a user in a couple years, when you will look back at apps from our competitors and hate them for what they did to you and your friends. See you then!