Facebook introduced a kid-friendly version of its chat app called Messenger Kids last month, offering young children access to all of its best features without the potential safety issues. The app aims to protect kids by tethering the app to a parent’s account, requiring parental authorization to chat with new people, and more. However, an advocacy group is arguing that none of those features matter because, they say, Messenger Kids is inherently dangerous to kids.
In a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has requested that Facebook discontinue Messenger Kids, which targets children under the age of 13. The group argues that it is “very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development,” basing that argument on “a growing body of research” into the the excessive use of social media and gadgets by young kids.
“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the letter writers argue. The group points toward issues like a lack of understanding about privacy and a lack of social development that could lead to conflicts in online relationships. The group also points toward studies that have found links between teen social media use and rates of depression and life dissatisfaction.
Of course, some make arguments made in favor of the app, too. Messenger Kids is a chatting app, not an app via which to post Facebook statuses and read others’ statuses. This means a child’s interactions via Messenger Kids will be directly with others, actively engaging in conversations rather than just passively consuming content. Facebook has previously argued, pointing toward some studies, that social media downsides aren’t inherent, but rather due to passive consumption.
Proponents also argue that social media apps are an inevitability in life, and that something like Messenger Kids presents parents with a safer way to ease their kids into the digital world while teaching safe social media practices. That’s not to say that young kids should be allowed to use excessively use apps like this, however.
For its part, the advocacy group argues against some purported benefits of a Messenger Kids account, arguing that the same things can be accomplished in other ways that doesn’t involve establishing a child on social media. The letter reads:
We understand that not all relationships can be face-to-face. One of Facebook’s stated rationales for creating Messenger Kids is to help kids connect with long-distance family members, including parents in the military. But talking to family and friends over long distances doesn’t require a Messenger Kids account. Kids can use parents’ Facebook, Skype, or other accounts to chat with relatives. They can also just pick up a phone … Messenger Kids is not responding to a need – it is creating one. It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts.