Facebook unveils Messenger Kids for youngsters

Facebook, ostensibly, has minimum age requirements: 13 paltry years will gain you access to the site and its free chat app, Messenger. But how many times have you walked into a coffee shop to see a saucer-eyed three year old glued to an iPad? Facebook has taken note of today’s children’s proclivity for technological interaction, unveiling a child-friendly version of Messenger dubbed Messenger Kids.

Facebook unveils Messenger Kids for youngsters

The service facilitates interaction between children and their family and friends, permitting communication via text and video chat. The service is designed with non-phone devices in mind – think tablets and iPod touches – requiring parents to sign kids up using their first and last names, given that many children don’t own phones. For now, anyway. At the moment, it’s confined to the US – not to mention Apple’s iOS – but is soon to be launched on Amazon Kindle and Google Android devices. Upon turning 13, children won’t necessarily be migrated over to big-kid Facebook, but will instead be offered the choice.

Regulated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), the app won’t feature advertising or in-app purchases (we all know what happens when kids are unleashed in the world of online consumerism). Meanwhile, what it does feature is a range of creative filters – think face paint, bunny ears, and augmented reality butterflies – for kids to play around with.

If it sounds like a robustly innocent communication device, it might well be, but Facebook should be vigilant in avoiding the pitfalls experienced by YouTube, where children’s online experiences have proven anything but. Children were exposed to disturbing content featuring family favourite cartoon characters, not to mention comments from alleged child predators. And whilst Messenger Kids took a lengthy 18 months to develop – you’d think adequate safeguards would have been put in place – the internet’s seemingly indefatigable capacity for harm warrants parents keeping a wary eye on youngsters using the app.

Facebook has previously been vocal about its responsibility to curb online bullying, with the recent Childline statistic that more than 60 children are calling the service each day with suicidal thoughts, serving to shed light on the issue. Underscored by Sean Parker’s infamous acknowledgement that Facebook’s founders exploited a “vulnerability in human psychology” (yep, that’s Sean-“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”-Parker), Messenger Kids should indeed be taken with a pinch of salt.

Header image: Jim Bauer, used under Creative Commons

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