Facebook is rolling out Messenger Kids, its controversial chat app for those under 13, to countries outside of the US, as reported by CNET. The app has been widely criticized by advocacy groups that claim it is “harmful to children and teens.” Messenger Kids will be coming to Peru and Canada, and, for the first time, it will also be available in Spanish and French.
Introduced last December, Messenger Kids allows parents to manage a child’s profile through their Facebook account and have control over who the child can contact. It contains no ads or in-app purchases, and it does not require a child use their real name. It skews toward letting kids video and text chat while offering kid-appropriate stickers, masks, and filters to decorate their content.
Although Facebook says the app is designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), there has been pressure from child development experts, health advocacy groups, educators, parents, and more, all calling for Facebook to shut the app down. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood voiced concerns in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, saying that “young children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” and are “not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships.”
In addition to the international expansion, Facebook also made some tweaks to Messenger Kids. Now, two parents can manage a child’s account, instead of one.
The app also now presents a “pledge” for families that is seen when parents set up the account for their child. The pledge’s four points are “Be Kind,” “Be Respectful,” “Be Safe,” and “Have Fun,” and are supposed to be “guiding principles between parents and kids that encourage the responsible use of Messenger Kids.” The idea is that parents will have a discussion with their child about these tenets before access is handed over.
Although Messenger Kids seemingly follows proper protocols — and there are certainly good uses for it, such as a child being able to chat with family members — many kids already have access to cellphones that can accomplish those connection needs. Messenger Kids appears to be grooming the next generation of Facebook users, and that may be concerning for some parents.