Dr Torgeir Aleti, a lecturer in economics and marketing at RMIT University, expressed alarm at the memo which outlined “youth work as a priority for Instagram”.
“Instagram will probably look at their idea like Lego, and so this is their Duplo version,” he said, referring to an entry level brick set for the toy brand.
“But I look at (Instagram for kids under 13) more like lolly cigarettes.
“This is very basic marketing,” he said, “the earlier you get consumers the more loyal they stay throughout their life.
Dr Aleti described the plan as a “stepping stone to get young children hooked”, like how Big Tobacco had been linked to now-banned lolly cigarettes.
Currently, children must be at least 13 to use Instagram.
The internal memo published by Buzzfeed was written on an employee message board by Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product.
“I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list,” Mr Shah wrote.
“We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.”
Nine.com.au contacted Facebook but they did not comment on whether Instagram was advancing plans for the under-13 demographic.
Last week a study conducted by an Australian lobby group claimed it had found a loophole on Facebook which allowed teenagers to be targeted with advertising based on a range of age-inappropriate interests, such as alcohol, smoking, gambling, and extreme weight loss.
Reset Australia created a series of ads to check what oversight Facebook had over underage profiling.
It said Facebook greenlit ads targeting teenagers which included vaping, cocktail recipes, political extremism, extreme weight loss and adult dating.
“Should a 13-year-old who lists their single status be getting targeted ads for a sugar daddy dating service?” Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper said.
“Should a 15-year-old profiled as interested in alcohol see ads that suggest cocktail recipes based on their parent’s alcohol cabinet?”
He said 16-year-olds should not see ads about gambling or political extremism.
When approached by 9News.com.au, a Facebook company spokesperson did not refute that Reset Australia had been able to target the teenagers with the ads.
The spokesperson said that “keeping young people safe across Facebook and Instagram is vital”.
Facebook had “significant measures in place” to review all ads before and after they run, the spokesperson said, including automated systems and human reviewers.
“Anyone advertising on our platforms must comply with our policies along with all local laws and codes, such as those restricting the advertising of alcohol to minors in Australia.
“To support this, we also have age restriction tools that all businesses can implement on their accounts themselves to control who sees their content.”
Dr Aleti said parents and society had “absolutely reason to be concerned” by Reset Australia’s experimentation with Facebook ads, which the lobby group did not publish.
The thing that concerned him most, he said, was “how easily it was done”.
He said moves to regulate Facebook and other Silicon Valley social media titans was “well overdue”.
On releasing its Q1 earnings last week, Facebook said it counts 3.45 billion monthly users across its family of apps, which include Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The company also flagged it was bracing itself for “ad targeting headwinds” at the end of the year.