Facebook made a big announcement on this week: The company has launched a messaging app that’s designed just for kids.
Dubbed Messenger Kids, the app lets kids use Facebook’s messaging tool, making it the first time the company has let children under the age of 13 officially use its software.
“Regular” Facebook still has an official use restriction for kids under the age of 13.
Messenger Kids is a lot like the regular Facebook Messenger app, but it injects some parental control. With the app, kids can share messages, make video calls, and send selfies, GIFS, and stickers to their friends on a list that’s approved by their parents.
And messages don’t disappear and can’t be hidden in case parents want to monitor them, Facebook says on its website.
While Facebook points out that it created the app with input from parents and the company stresses that it’s safe, experts aren’t totally convinced.
For example, the app allows the Facebook friends of a child’s parents to see that they have Messenger Kids, which Jesse Weinberger, cybersafety speaker and author of The Boogeyman Exists; And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket, says is concerning.
“This is horrifying,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The overwhelming majority of sexual predator cases involve parents’ friends. Parents’ friends have no business finding children on social media.”
Jesse also points out that everyone has Facebook friends that they’re not really friends with or whose invitation they accepted even if they didn’t really want to, and those people now can see that a person’s child is available on an online messaging service.
Pediatrician Gina Posner says she’s “scared” about the concept.
“Kids’ brains aren’t mature enough to understand signs of danger,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
She also has concerns about the potential for online bullying. “This is just one more way for kids to have access to social media that can lead to more bullying,” Gina says.
President of Internet safety organisation Enough Is Enough Donna Hughes has also raised another potential issue.
She’s worried that introducing a Facebook product to young kids is only going to make them want to use the main Facebook product, as well as other apps like this.
Facebook requires that children use their first and last name and a picture of themselves for the app. “My question is why?” Donna says. “It would be much safer if it was a screen name and an emoji.”
It’s not all bad though according to Liz Repking of Cyber Safety Consulting.
“Overall I’d love to see a stronger movement towards restricting social media to kids who are under 13, but the reality is that’s not going to happen,” she says, pointing out that kids simply lie about their birth date in order to join social media networks.
“This gives functionality that allows parents to be involved,” she adds.
If you want to let your child use Messenger Kids, Liz recommends educating him or her on what it means to be safe, appropriate, and savvy online. “In order for parents to effectively do that, they need to understand the app and let their kids know that they have the ability to check in and see what they’re doing,” she says.
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