Facebook Messenger Kids App In Crosshairs Of Child And Privacy Advocates

Facebook is under constant scrutiny from various parties due to its sheer dominance of the social networking spaces. The company has been making some interesting decisions of late with the most recent change being an announcement this morning that the social network would begin favoring local news content over national news in news feeds. Facebook is now taking heat for targeting kids younger than 13 due to the rollout of the new Messenger Kids app.

A group of child health advocates has penned an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to kill off the Messenger Kids app, which launched back in December. Despite the strict parental controls that the app features, health advocates still oppose the app and want it terminated.

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The letter was penned by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and states, “We are writing to urge you to discontinue Messenger Kids, Facebook’s first social media app designed specifically for children under the age of 13. Given Facebook’s enormous reach and marketing prowess, Messenger Kids will likely be the first social media platform widely used by elementary school children. But a growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”

The letter asserts that the younger children that the app is appealing too aren’t ready for social media accounts. The experts maintain that these children don’t have a full understanding of privacy or what’s appropriate to share with others. The advocates also claim that the kids don’t understand who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos.

The letter states, “At a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents’ wellbeing, it is particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as preschoolers to start using a Facebook product. Social media use by teens is linked to significantly higher rates of depression, and adolescents who spend an hour a day chatting on social networks report less satisfaction with nearly every aspect of their lives.”

While the advocates state that they understand the idea is that the Messenger Kids app would allow the children to keep in contact with distant family members, the app isn’t the answer. Kids should instead keep connected with these distant relatives using a parent's Facebook, Skype, or other account or simply pick up a phone according to the letter.

The letter can be read in full here [PDF] and the organizations that have signed the letter are below:

  • 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.)