Health experts ask Facebook to remove new instant messaging service for children

  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large

Nineteen advocacy groups and nearly 100 pediatric and mental health experts penned a letter Jan. 30 to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to "[pull] the plug" on his company's Messenger Kids app.

Messenger Kids, which Facebook brands as a "safe kids chat app," is a free video chat and instant messaging service targeted toward children. On the app, which Facebook rolled out to the U.S. in December, users are only able to connect with contacts their parents have approved from their individual Facebook accounts.

The Messenger Kids app is available to children as young as 6 years of age. By contrast, users must be at least 13 years old to register for a full Facebook account.

"After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA and parenting experts in the U.S., 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, a product management director at Facebook, wrote in the company's Dec. 4 announcement.

However, in the Jan. 30 letter, signatories led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood argued the app would "very likely … undermine children's healthy development."

The signatories suggested use of Messenger Kids would increase the amount of time children spend on digital devices and encourage users to cultivate friendships online, rather than through face-to-face interactions that are "crucial for building healthy developmental skills, including the ability to read human emotion, delay gratification and engage with the physical world."

In light of mounting concern about the negative health effects of social media use among teenagers, the signatories wrote it is "particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as preschoolers to start using a Facebook product." The letter cites a 2018 study published in Clinical Psychological Science linking teenagers' use of social media to high rates of depression.

"Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts," the letter contends. "They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users."

The rise of an app like Messenger Kids, according to the signatories, will normalize social media use among young children, leading to an overall "negative" impact on society.

"Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough," the letter reads. "We ask that you do not use Facebook's enormous reach and influence to make it even harder."

To view the Jan. 30 letter, click here.

Copyright © 2021 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars