Facebook launches Messenger Kids App for Kids Under 13

Messenger Kids

Image Credit: Facebook

(Or as Associated Press headlined ‘Facebook is coming for your kids..’).

Nope this is not a ‘fake news’ story. Facebook, the world’s largest Social Media Platform – will begin rolling out Messenger Kids, in the US, on Monday.

According to Facebook press on the preview yesterday, the app is ‘needed’ and ‘it lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want’. More on that later.

Most people know that in order to sign up and create a social media account you need to be 13 years of age. (Due to Federal Law prohibiting Social Networks and internet companies to collect information or advertise to Under 13’s). However we all know and research confirms, 10 is the average age that many children start using social media platforms before they reach 13 without the approval of Parents or Guardians.

Context: ‘93% of 6-12 year olds in the US have access to tables and smartphones and 68% have a device of their own’.

How does Messenger Kids work?

Facebook Messenger Kids is a standalone app which is downloaded and installed on children’s tablets or smartphones but can be controlled from a Parent’s Facebook account.

The app allows children to share appropriate pictures, texts, videos, gifs and emojis to each other, and will allow parents some control over what messages are sent.

Along with a video chat feature, kids can send photos, videos or text messages to their parent-approved friends and adult relatives, who will receive the messages via their regular Messenger app.

Parents fully control the contact list and kids can’t connect with contacts that their parents do not approve. Parents control kids accounts and contacts through the Messenger Kids Controls panel in their main Facebook app.

Messenger Kids

Image credit: Facebook

Once a parent has set up a child’s account they can start a one-on-one or group video chat with parent-approved contacts. According to Facebook ‘The home screen shows them at a glance who they are approved to talk to, and when those contacts are online’.

Facebook have said ‘There are no ads in Messenger Kids and your child’s information isn’t used for ads. It is free to download and there are no in-app purchases. Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA)’.

Facebooks intentions and what happens in reality don’t always tie up.

Facebook Messenger Kids– Goodie or Baddie?

On the surface Facebook’s Kids Messenger looks like a dream come true for busy parents in today’s world.

According to Facebook’s press release they’ve carried out extensive research with parents, families and experts. ‘After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, 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’.

In the dumbed-down press release they appear to have done their homework. ‘Parents and family’ are mentioned 28 times in it.

And it has some great points. It could be a great tool with great features!.

It’s controlled from Parents Facebook accounts, a nanny AI is watching – so swearing not allowed, parents approve and control the contact list, only parents can delete messages. It won’t show ads or collect data for marketing..

Note: Facebook says it does need ‘some data to run the service’ and it won’t automatically move users to Facebook but will ‘give them the option to move when they get old enough’.

According to The Drum however not all Facebook’s motives may be altruistic, ‘first goal, create more generations of people who will be lifelong addicts of social media…second goal to kick Snapchat into touch by poaching their users at a younger age, when they add ‘If Facebook can bond pre-teens to it’s messaging platform, then those kids will be more likely to stick with Facebook (because that’s where their contacts are‘ once they hit 13.

Distraction and Addiction.

Is the safety of the messages the only concern? Children are less able to self regulate than adults. And us adults have a hard time ignoring our phones.

Tristan Harris, a design ethicist (formerly Google) famously said,

‘You could say that it’s my responsibility to exert self control on digital usage. But that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain’.

So..
Do children under 13 really need, specially designed (what The Drum calls) ‘notification-filled interruption machines’. Should we encourage bringing into our younger kids lives ‘an endless river of colorful interruptions..(that) will not help kids to learn to read, write or do math or simply learn the basic rules of social interaction’ (The Drum) at an early age?.

As it’s for U13’s, what’s the youngest age they’re going to recommend/market it to? ie at what age will they recommend parents should let their children use the messaging service?. Pre-school? Primary One/First Grade?

The details on the preview are sketchy at the moment. One thing you can be sure of – it won’t have a screen time limit feature!.

Paying attention in a Digital World.

Wayne

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