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Experts call for Facebook to pull Messenger Kids app

children on a computer

Experts call for Facebook to pull Messenger Kids app

A number of child development specialists have condemned the new Messenger Kids app introduced by social networking platform Facebook, and have urged CEO Mark Zuckerberg to pull the app altogether.

Experts, including paediatricians, educators, parental groups and child charities, have signed an open letter to the platform in conjunction with Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), warning that Messenger Kids could be detrimental to the development of the children using it.

The letter expresses concerns that social media has already proven to have had an effect on adolescents’ wellbeing, so introducing social media to children as young as pre-schoolers would be irresponsible, as it could have a detrimental effect on their development.

Messenger Kids was launched by the social media titan back in December*. The messaging platform is designed for use by children under the age of 13, as the age to create an account on the main Facebook site is 13. It has strict parental controls that allow concerned parents and guardians to control who their child is connected to on the app. Children can send photos, videos and messages to their friends once they have been approved by parents.

Facebook has not put any advertising in the programme and does not have any in-app purchasing options to give parents peace of mind. Furthermore, the child’s account is linked to their parents’ account, and once the child hits 13, they will be moved on to the full Messenger app.

The letter voices concerns about delivering a Facebook product to kids so early on in their development, and states that it is likely to see the amount of time spent on devices such as tablets and smartphones increase.

Josh Golin, the executive director of Boston-based CCFC, has stated that he was surprised to see the social giant targeting young children when there is mounting evidence suggesting that excessive use of social media can have a negative impact.

Furthermore, Golin suggests that this is a pivotal time for executives of social media companies as they now need to choose whether they care about children’s welfare, their families and the wider society, or whether they want to focus on business, profits and getting people hooked on their products.

A spokesperson for Facebook stated that the app was developed alongside an advisory committee consisting of experts from the parental and developmental sectors, along with the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) and families. The representative believes that Messenger Kids will continue to bring the best possible experience for families.

Moreover, Facebook has suggested that the app can help families to use social media in a safe way as parents are in control of their children’s contact list and interactions. The company also highlights that since the app was launched, it has heard from families across the US that it has helped children to keep in touch with their wider families.

Messenger Kids is currently only available in the US. It is expected that the app will reach British and European shores, but a timescale has not been put on this.

Alan Littler
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