A growing chorus of academics, parents, and technologists has been sounding the alarm about kids and social media. Throughout 2017, new research highlighted increases in anxiety, loneliness, sleeplessness, and dependence among teens, who are social media’s most dedicated users. Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he doesn’t allow his nephew to access social media. And YouTube, which had been surfacing violent videos in children’s playlists, has been stepping up efforts to police its content after an outcry of parent criticism.
Which brings us to Messenger Kids. Facebook unveiled this kid-friendly version of its signature messaging service in December, while the YouTube Kids scandal was in full swing. Messenger Kids, Facebook said, had been designed to serve as a “fun, safer solution” for family communications. It would be available for children as young as 6, the company said. To forestall criticism, Facebook asserted that the app had been developed alongside thousands of parents and a dozen expert advisors.
But it looks like many of those outside experts were funded with Facebook dollars. According to Wired, “At least seven members of Facebook 13-person advisory board have some kind of financial tie to the company.” Those advisors include the National PTA, Blue Star Families, Connect Safely, and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Many advisory board members have defended their participation. “It is important that families are armed with resources and tools to help them take advantage of the opportunities that the digital world offers while building good digital habits and ensuring children have the skills they need to be responsible online,” National PTA president Jim Accomando told Wired.
Messenger Kids is currently ranked #106 in social networking in the App Store, with a rating of 3.9 stars.