You know that only those above 13 years of age can use Facebook. Now, Facebook has launched an app called Messenger Kids that is meant for younger kids (6-12 years, according to Facebook) that lets them chat with contacts who are pre-approved by their parents.
How it works
For the parent: Parent downloads the Messenger Kids app onto the child's device and authenticates using her personal Facebook id. Using the Messenger Kids panel on her own account, she approves certain people to be contacts on the child's account.
For the child: In the app, the child can see the list of approved contacts and engage in video chat, send text messages or share photos and videos with them.
How Facebook thinks it is child-friendly
Children cannot connect to those not authorized by their parents.
Hand-selected child-friendly gifs.
There are no ads.
User data is not used for advertising.
Child accounts are not automatically migrated to Facebook when the child turns 13.
Children can flag content or contact they think is inappropriate.
The ChildSafeMedia View
Privacy: When we hesitate to post pictures of our children online, do we trust a system with our kids spontaneous pictures, texts - that will definitely be on record somewhere? Remember, even the iCloud was hacked. Also, Facebook will not use the data for advertising - sure, but they can share pictures, texts and videos internally and with a family of companies to enhance the app. So the privacy of your child's data is definitely not watertight.
Security: Inappropriate content or accounts can be flagged by the child - and then it is notified to the parents. Facebook human moderators are supposed to respond within a certain time period. Even assuming both the parents and the moderators respond, the bigger question is - how many kids would know enough to flag inappropriate content? How would a 6-year old be able to judge something a sexual innuendo for example? Putting the onus on the child for it's own safety is the biggest flaw in this design.
Age limit: While the app claims to serve 6 to 12-year olds, it will likely be used by much younger kids. Why should a 3-year old be on a messenger app?
Identity and development: It is one thing to share a chat app on your parents' phone but quite another to have one's own messaging app. We have only just started unraveling the horrific effects of social media on teen mental health around the world. Even assuming only children older than 6 use that app, having a social identity so young will likely have lasting, debilitating effects on the growing child. That is not a risk any parent should take.
In the final reckoning, we recommend that you DO NOT download this app for your kids.
Many commentators around the world feel similarly. Gizmodo points to previous moderation failures at FaceBook and asks in colorful language why we should trust FaceBook with our kids this time. Wired calls out the aggressive targeting of really young people and fears for their privacy.
On Twitter, many have expressed concern.
Social media is a hydra-headed creature that has many unintended consequences for its users, many that even its makers are unable to predict. We should push back and wean our tweens and teens off it, not expose our unprepared young ones to this mind-game.
Do you agree with the ChildSafeMedia recommendation? What do you think about Messenger Kids? Do tell us in comments.