Facebook launched Messenger for Kids last month. It’s a kid-friendly version of the company’s popular Messenger app with pre-approved contacts. Parents set up an account for their kids and they can then use the app to conduct one-on-one or group video chat with approved contacts. Child health advocates haven’t warmed up to the idea and they’re now calling on Facebook to shut down Messenger for Kids.
The Messenger for Kids app has been designed specifically for kids aged six to 12. Facebook requires minors to be at least 13 years old on all of its other services because federal law prohibits children under the age of 13 from signing up.
More than 100 child health advocates, development experts, educators, advocacy groups, and parents have called on Facebook to shut down this app as part of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The appeal has been made to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an open letter which warns that the app is “harmful to children and teens,” and that it could “undermine children’s healthy development.”
With Messenger Kids, parents can create accounts for their kids and stay in touch with them. The kids can use video and GIF tools in chats and even make calls to approved contacts. Facebook said at launch that it won’t display any ads in the app and that there would be no in-app purchases. It doesn’t even require kids to use their real name for the service, unlike Facebook proper.
These safeguards have not convinced the collective of the app’s efficacy. It feels that the overall impact of this app is likely going to be negative because it creates peer pressure for kids to join a social network.
“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the letter says, adding that “They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos.”
Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis has responded to the letter by saying that the company has made Messenger Kids as safe as possible for kids by collaborating with child health experts.
“We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA,” she said.