Facebook was sent an open letter from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) asking for its Messenger Kids app, aimed at children aged under 13, to be discontinued.
“A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development,” the campaign group wrote.
It added young children are not ready to have social media accounts as they are not old enough to “navigate the complexities of online relationships” and they also don’t understand privacy, including what is appropriate to share with others.
The letter argued the app, launched in December 2017, will exacerbate problems already linked to social media use by children, including depression and unhealthy sleep habits. Another cause for concern was encouraging children to move their friendships online will interfere with the face-to-face interactions deemed crucial for building developmental skills.
As for Facebook’s reasoning the app is useful to help kids talk to grandparents and family over long distances, the letter stated this can already be done using parents’ Facebook or Skype.
“We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the well-being of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids,” CCFC concluded. The letter was co-signed by organisations including Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Centre for Child Honouring, along with individuals such as paediatricians and professors.
When Facebook launched the app it said the service was designed to be compliant with important child privacy laws including the US Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and is advert-free.
The social media giant also faced accusations of using the app as a way to get young children familiar with its products so they are more likely to sign up to them when they are old enough.
In the past, CCFC also campaigned against YouTube kids because it was “awash with food and beverage marketing that you won’t find on other media platforms for young children”.