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Experts call on Facebook to pull Messenger Kids app

30 January 2018

The letter argues that Messenger Kids is likely to be the first platform children encounter, owing to Facebook's massive market reach.

"After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the United States, we found that there's a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want", Loren Cheng, Facebook's Product Management Director, said in a December statement.

The idea has been panned by other child health experts, which called for the firm to halt the rollout of this app in an open letter (reported via the BBC). The letter was organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that has successfully pushed companies to abandon marketing such as a "Pokemon Go" app that sent children to fast food stores and others, and McDonald's advertising on the envelopes of report cards in Florida. The launch of the Messenger Kids in 2017 has spurred a debate over the use of social media by kids since then.

Doing better is leaving younger children alone and allowing them to develop without the pressures that come with social media use. "Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts", the experts said in the letter. The home screen displays the online contacts, and also has a "library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools lets them decorate content and express their personalities.", as stated by Facebook.

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Messenger Kids launched previous year, but has since become the focus of a campaign for Facebook to scrap the app over concerns about the health of children.

Some companies have offered parental controls as a way of curbing unauthorized preteen use of their platforms. In 2015, it accused Google's YouTube Kids app of letting inappropriate slip through the cracks of what was touted to be a child-safe video zone.

"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 Dr Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation. "We are at a pivotal moment, and the tech companies need to decide if they are going to act in a way that is more ethical and more responsive to the needs of children and families, or are they gong to continue to pursue profits at the expense of children's well-being?" Earlier this month, two of Apple's major shareholders urged the tech giant to study iPhone addiction among kids. They allege that the company's influential products risk causing long-term physical or mental harm to children. The groups and individuals who oppose Messenger Kids are attempting to seize on that momentum and prompt a shift at Facebook and the industry. "It's not just the research - so many parents see it. To deny that these devices monopolize our attention and are designed in a way that interferes with human relationships, I think its irrefutable at this point".

Experts call on Facebook to pull Messenger Kids app