Facebook Messenger Kids Should Be Shut Down, Say Child Health Advocates

02 February 2018, 12:02 | Myrtle Hill

Hundreds of experts want Mark Zuckerberg to leave children alone

Experts call on Facebook to pull Messenger Kids app

On Tuesday, a group of almost 100 individual child health experts and advocates and 19 organizations sent a urging the company to discontinue Messenger Kids.

A group letter sent Tuesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues that younger children aren't ready to have social media accounts, navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy. "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", the group says.

"Messenger Kids is not responding to a need - it is creating one", claims the letter.

"Since we launched in December we've heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to video chat with fun masks with family members near and far", the company wrote. There are no ads and children can't make purchases.

Since parents are given control of their child's account, Facebook asserted that Messenger Kids would be filling a "need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want". Younger children, then, are "simply not ready to have social media accounts". Sean Parker, Facebook's first president, said late past year that the social media platform exploits "vulnerability in human psychology" to addict users.

However, a child health advocacy group backed up by several other similar organizations and individuals believe that the Messenger Kids app isn't good for children, urging the social network to kill it with fire.

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Some companies have offered parental controls as a way of controlling unauthorized preteen use of their platforms.

Many said it's ultimately up to the parent to grant access to the app or not. "We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families", said Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, in a statement to the Washington Post.

The campaign against Facebook's Messenger Kids follows another high-profile push against a Silicon Valley giant. "Facebook needs to make sure it's doing the due diligence of educating parents how to use Messenger Kids safely and effectively with their children". One of the studies, published by a psychology professor at San Diego State University tied social use by teens to lead to increased rates of depression. That's not to say that young kids should be allowed to use excessively use apps like this, however.

The role of digital devices in children's lives is a growing concern in an increasingly plugged-in society. "Encouraging kids to move their friendships online will interfere with and displace the face-to-face interactions and play that are crucial for building healthy developmental skills, including the ability to read human emotion, delay gratification, and engage with the physical world".

The app works like this: To set it up, a parent has to use his or her own Facebook account.

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