Facing mounting criticism from the U.S. indictment alleging that Russia manipulated social media to influence politics and the presidential election, Facebook is also taking a hit for delivering a messaging app designed just for kids.
Child experts have been calling for Facebook to do away with the app, saying it hooks youngsters on social media use. There’s also the question of how Facebook financially supported some advisers who approved of the app.
“It’s disturbing that Facebook, in the face of widespread concern, is aggressively marketing Messenger Kids to even more children,” said the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Initially launched in December, the app was made available on Amazon devices last month and just recently to devices running Android. That now makes it widely available.
Facebook and groups like the nonprofit Common Sense Media have gone back and forth with accusations about financial ties, with a Wired report noting that more than half of the team of Facebook advisers, academics and families who helped shaped the app before it launched had financial ties to the company. Common Sense says Facebook should never have issued a product aimed at children.
Amid all the back and forth, that really remains the central question, whether it’s proper for children under 13 to have a messaging app specially designed for them. The app lets kids chat with friends and family. Parents can choose who their children message, and the app contains no advertising.
It’s not easy to assess the potential evil in all of this; children are going to take to technology at an increasingly young age, whether it’s specifically designed for them or not, and if there are still parents who need to be told care needs to be taken when it comes to their children and technology the hoopla over a new app is not likely to make much difference.
But children do need protection, and that includes protection from marketing specifically directed at them.
From that perspective, the Facebook move is a false step. Parents and other grownups should greet the expanded offering of this app with wariness and skepticism. It’s another challenge for parents who already have their hands full.