Facebook Completes Messenger Kids App Roll Out Despite Criticism
Last week, Facebook launched its Messenger Kids app for Android, the app that, as we reported back in December when it debuted for iOS, allows kids aged 6 to 13 to communicate online, ostensibly safely, and with parent-approved contacts. While Facebook seemed to have checked all of the boxes, claiming to have consulted with child development and online safety experts, we still warned parents to proceed with caution, until the scandal-ridden company proved worthy of trust.
It never did.
Instead, almost in tandem with the Android release last week, came reports that most of Facebook’s expert consultations in the development of Messenger Kids have financial ties to the company.
“At least seven members of Facebook’s 13-person advisory board have some kind of financial tie to the company. … [some of whom] have gone on to write op-eds in The Hill and the San Jose Mercury News supporting Facebook’s app,” reported Nitasha Tiku for Wired.
Also at issue is whom Facebook left out of Messenger Kids’ development; leading academic critics of screen time and prominent child online safety organizations, like Common Sense Media, weren’t consulted until a ‘courtesy call’ days before the app’s launch.
The social media giant is “trying to represent that they have so much more support for this than they actually do,” Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, told Tiku. Golin is one of 100 advocates for children’s health and safety leading a request for Facebook to shut down the app.
Given the parameters of the app, which allows parents to approve contacts, contains no advertisements, and does not convert to a Facebook-proper account upon the child turning 13 (though the app does collect data on children’s messages, shared photos and general usage, and allows Facebook to sell that data to third parties), it’s possible the social media platform had the best intentions in creating Messenger Kids, in as much as those intentions didn’t conflict with its bottom line. Per Tiku’s article:
Kristelle Lavallee, a content strategist at [the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital], who is also on Facebook’s kids advisory board, compared the desire to shut down Messenger Kids to abstinence-only education. “Nobody is saying they have the answers, because nobody does,” she says, but as researchers and educators, “It’s really our job to understand these tools.”
The financial links to advisors could simply be tight stage managing by a beleaguered company desperate to regain its good name. But given that, in the one week since Messenger Kids launched for Android, it’s seen only 1000-odd downloads, it may be that to users, a goodwill tour is one thing — putting kids’ well-being center stage is another.