Child health experts ask Facebook to abandon Messenger Kids app

girl mobile phone

More than 110 child development experts have signed an open letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, warning of the risks faced by under-13s on social media and asking him to pull the newly launched Messenger Kids app

More than 110 doctors, teachers and child health experts have signed an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg expressing their concern about the dangers of social media for young children and asking Zuckerberg to halt the Facebook Messenger Kids app, which is aimed at children who are under 13 (and therefore not old enough to have a full Facebook account).

In the letter, which was led by the Boston-based Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, the authors warn that “younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts”, adding that “at a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents' wellbeing, it is particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as pre-schoolers to start using a Facebook product.”

The Messenger Kids app was launched in the US in December 2017 but is yet to come to the UK. It stands apart from the Facebook app and has child protection features that include parental 'friend' approvals, screened content and safety filters to prevent children sharing inappropriate material. Facebook has said that they have a dedicated moderation team to monitor content and strict filters block children from sharing anything featuring nudity, sexual or violent content. They have also said that there are no adverts or in-app purchases and users will not be automatically moved onto regular Facebook or Messenger when they turn 13.

However, the campaigners do not consider these features to be sufficient to tackle the risks faced by children who use the app.

Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, said, “It's galling to see Facebook target young children at a time when evidence is mounting that excessive social media use negatively impacts kids and teens' wellbeing.”

Concerns have also been raised about how much the Messenger Kids app will increase the amount of time children spend on their devices. The authors of the open letter to Zuckerberg said that the app would be very likely to discourage children from enjoying real-life, offline relationships at what is a very important time developmentally.

“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, author of the book Reclaiming Conversation.

“As children spend more and more time on digital devices, they lose the healthy capacities to cultivate moments of quiet and solitude that are so crucial for developing empathy and healthy relationships,” she added.

Facebook has said that the messaging app was developed with the help of online safety experts including the National PTA and Blue Star Families and is fully compliant with the US Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act.