child using tablet

Calls for Facebook to scrap its ‘Messenger Kids’ app over concerns about child welfare

Image credit: Dreamstime

Facebook’s new chat platform for children, ‘Messenger Kids’, should be scrapped according to a children’s advocacy group who are concerned it will promote depression, poor sleep habits, and an unhealthy body image.

Facebook rolled out Messenger Kids in December, giving children under-13 official access to the Facebook platform for the first time.

It gives parents some control – kids’ accounts are linked to parent accounts, and parents must approve contacts.

It’s designed with features like emojis, colourful stickers and animations to draw and hold kids’ attention, keeping them engaged with the Facebook platform even if they are too young to type.

The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has launched a petition calling on Facebook to scrap the app and has written a letter detailing the ways the new app will undermine children’s healthy development.

It cites a “growing body of research” that links adolescent social media use with depression, poor sleep habits and unhealthy body image.

It also points out that Facebook Messenger Kids will make parents’ job more challenging: “Almost half of parents say that regulating their child’s screen time is a constant battle. 

Messenger Kids will exacerbate this problem, as the anticipation of friends’ responses will be a powerful incentive for children to check – and stay on – a phone or tablet.”

“In a landscape of ubiquitous technology that undermines children’s emotional growth, the last thing the youngest among them need is a powerful enticement to move their friendships online,” said MIT professor Sherry Turkle.

“As children spend more and more time on digital devices, they lose the healthy capacities to cultivate moments of quiet and solitude that are so crucial for developing empathy and healthy relationships. And they miss out on the skills that face-to-face conversations teach.”

CCFC’s executive director Josh Golin said: “It’s galling to see Facebook target young children at a time when evidence is mounting that excessive social media use negatively impacts kids and teens’ wellbeing.

“Parents, health professionals, and even investors are standing up to tell tech giants that they’ve gone too far. This is a pivotal moment, and Silicon Valley executives must decide if they care about the welfare of children, families and society, or only about hooking users and pursuing profits.”

Facebook says Messenger Kids will help children communicate with long-distance relatives and provide a safe alternative for kids who lie their way onto social media platforms designed for teens and adults.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “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 December the French Justice Minister issued draft data privacy legislation that mandated that children under the age of 16 in France may not open a social media account without parental consent. 

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