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This Facebook App Could Be a Danger to Your Child

Messenger Kids

Last month, several former Facebook executives lamented what they had created saying social media was ripping society apart.  

Facebook responded to the criticism by launching Messenger Kids. This time, the critics aren’t waiting as long to speak up.

More than 100 child development experts and advocates are urging Facebook to end the app, which is designed for children younger than 13. Experts cite concerns over encouraging elementary school children to use social media.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the groups noted that it will likely be “the first social media platform widely used by elementary school children.” The letter, organized by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, points to research showing that “excessive use of digital devices and social media” can harm children and teens.  

The letter states, “Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users,” adding that children may not understand the implications of sending private videos or pictures.

Pre-Teens Not Ready for Messenger Kids  

The demand letter comes on the heels of a study last month conducted by U.K. media watchdog Ofcom that suggested the use of social media by children younger than 13 is on the rise despite social networks typically having an age limit of 13 years old for signups.

In practice there’s little to stop kids who have access to a mobile device downloading and signing up for apps and services themselves, unless their parents are actively policing their device use.

It also follows more research on the negative effects of social media. Last week, a study conducted by researchers at San Diego State University found that teens who spent more time on social media, gaming, texting and video-chatting on their phones were not as happy as those who played sports, went outside and interacted with people face to face. The Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood believes Messenger Kids increases time online for preteens.

When Facebook launched Messenger Kids, it said the app was developed with input from parents, experts in child development and children’s media. And in keeping with federal law, the app requires parental approval to sign up and collect information. Parents must also consent to new contacts being added to their children’s app.

Facebook Defends Messenger Kids

Facebook responded to calls that the social media giant shut down Messenger Kids in a statement to TechCrunch.com:

“Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions. Since we launched in December we’ve heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to stay in touch with family members near and far. For example, we’ve heard stories of parents working night shifts being able read bedtime stories to their children, and mums who travel for work getting daily updates from their kids while they’re away. 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 the PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids be the best experience it can be for families. We have been very clear that there is no advertising in Messenger Kids.”

In theory, an app that helps parents connect and communicate with their children sounds like a great idea. But more questions arise as to whether kids will use the app exclusively for this purpose or whether they will get involved in trying to navigate a social media platform with their peers. This is precisely the concern the experts are voicing.

The organizations that signed the letter calling for Messenger Kids to be discontinued are:

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
ACLU of Massachusetts
Badass Teachers Association, Inc.
Centre for Child Honouring
Common Sense Media
Corporate Accountability
Defending the Early Years
EPIC Privacy
Media Education Foundation
New Dream
New Moon Girls
Parent Coalition for Student Privacy
Parents Across America
Parents Television Council
Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.)