Facebook’s Controversial ‘Messenger Kids’ App Arrives On Android
Though the social media company has taken measures to ensure the suitability and safety of the app for children, parents still have their concerns.
Facebook’s controversial Messenger Kids chat app, which first came out on iOS in December, is now available on Android.
Messenger Kids is a dedicated app designed to help children socialize with others, and it specifically targets children ages six through 12. Some detractors saw the creation of the app as a means for Facebook to ingratiate younger users on the platform sooner. In 2017, Facebook saw a decline of teenage users for the first time ever.
The app’s debut also sparked conversations around the influence of technology in our everyday lives, and more specifically, the potentially negative effects it can have on children’s development. Studies have shown that social media can weaken young people’s self-esteem, for example.
That said, there’s no denying the positives that smartphones and technology have brought with them: increased connectivity, for one, although this sometimes can be paired with feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s a complex issue and one we’ll be exploring in-depth at SMWNYC this spring.
Facebook has gone out of its way to try to ease the concerns of parents about the app, which is designed to let users talk and video chat with their friends and family. According to CNN, Facebook claims that before the app was released, it worked with a committee of experts and more than 250 online safety organizations throughout the app’s development.
Facebook also says that parents have full control over who their kids can talk to and children are able to flag inappropriate content. In an attempt to alleviate concerns even further, Facebook doesn’t automatically turn Messenger Kids accounts into regular Facebook accounts once a child turns 13, so parents are still in full control of when their children are mature enough to handle regular Facebook.
While Facebook has taken some steps to ensure Messenger Kids is a safe environment for kids, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood raises legitimate concerns about how the app may affect young children.
The organization recently wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, which contained input from more than a dozen organizations and approximately 100 health experts. The note references a 2018 study published in Clinical Psychological Science that found social media use is linked to significantly higher rates of depression in teens as well as another study that found eighth grade students who use six to nine hours of social media per week are 47 percent more likely to be unhappy with their lives than their peers who use social media less often.
In a world where on average, kids get their first smartphone shortly after their tenth birthday, the fact that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Tim Cook, all giants of Silicon Valley, strictly limited or want to limit the amount of time the children in their family spend on social media serves as an additional red flag. However, most parents don’t have the luxury of saying “absolutely not” to technology and are forced to face the reality that their kids are already on social media.
TechCrunch reporter Sarah Perez recently published an article titled, “Why I decided to install Messenger Kids,” which explores why parents are apprehensive about the existence of the app. Many have already tried other messaging options because they don’t want their kids lying about their age for Snapchat access and want to teach their kids how to be responsible online, but they also admit that they don’t know if letting their kids have access to social media is the right decision and fear it could be the wrong one.
For more information on Facebook Messenger Kids, visit https://messengerkids.com/
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