Today a coalition of child health advocates has published an open letter addressing CEO Mark Zuckerberg and calling for the company to shutter Messenger Kids: Aka the Snapchat-ish comms app it launched in the USA last December - targeted at the under 13s.
Once a child turns 13, Facebook does not automatically create a profile for them from their Messenger Kids account or migrate them to Messenger or other apps, and no data collected is used for targeted advertising.
The app, which debuted in December, was created as a workaround for parents who want to communicate with their children via Facebook, but can not use the regular version since federal law prohibits children under the age of 13 from signing up for the service. They claim the messenger app for kids is a threat to their well-being.
In response to Tuesday's letter from child health experts, a Facebook Messenger spokesperson told HuffPost the company has "heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to video chat with fun masks with family members near and far".
However, the group of experts who co-signed the letter believe that encouraging kids to take their friendships online will displace face-to-face interactions, which they say are essential for building healthy developmental and reading skills, as well as an ability to connect with human emotion and engage with the physical world.
The letter, sent by 19 advocacy groups including Public Citizen, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere and dozens of doctors and health experts, cites a study released last week that showed a link between teen unhappiness and social media use, and other studies that show social media's harmful effects on children's perception of body image as well as their sleep habits.
"They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what's appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures and videos", they added. "Doing better is leaving younger children alone and allowing them to develop without the pressures that come with social media use".
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Facebook's global head of safety, Antigone Davis, responded to the letter by saying it collaborated with child health experts to make Messenger Kids as safe for kids as possible.
Last fall, a study by the United Kingdom media watchdog Ofcom revealed that kids over thirteen are increasingly using the social media despite social networks defining the age limit for signups.
Parents can see all messages and delete a child's account remotely at any time.
The role of digital devices in children's lives is a growing concern in an increasingly plugged-in society.
Only parents can sign up children to Messenger Kids, and all contacts need to be approved by a parent before a child can chat.
The company also said it is looking for new ways to educate parents about how to best use the app. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families. For more, check out PCMag's hands on with Messenger Kids.