More than 110 child-health advocates have called on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to pull the firm’s Messenger Kids app aimed at under 13s, warning of the dangers of social media for children.
In an open letter led by the Boston-based Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, signed by doctors, educators and child health experts including baroness Susan Greenfield, warn that “younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts”.
The authors write: “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 standalone Messenger Kids app was launched in December targeting children under 13 with strict parent controls that include contact approvals, screened content and safety filters to prevent children sharing inappropriate material. It contains no ads and Facebook says data collected from it will not be used for advertising purposes.
But the launch of the app was attacked by commentators and British health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said the firm should “stay away from my kids”.
The open letter authors said Messenger Kids was likely to increase the amount of time pre-school and elementary age children spend with their devices.
“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, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation.
“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,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood.
Facebook said it developed Messenger Kids with the help of online safety experts including the National PTA and Blue Star Families. It is designed to connect children to relatives and friends through text, photos and video chat while making parents the gatekeepers. It is fully compliant with the US Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, the social network said.