Facebook – home to rampant harassment, misinformation and foreign election interference – is coming for kids. The company announced a new app on Monday for children as young as six years old. The app, Messenger Kids, is a messaging service that gives parents authority over who their kids can chat with.
Once a parent adds someone to their child’s contact list through the main Facebook app, kids can video chat as well as send photos, videos and texts, or pick something from “a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, and drawing tools,” according to Facebook’s announcement post.
Parents have to be Facebook friends with the parents of any kid that their kid wants to talk to, a Facebook product manager said at a press briefing, according to BuzzFeed. The app gives parents control over how long their kids can use the app. What’s more, Messenger Kids includes a tool that lets kids report when someone is being “mean” and, according to the product manager, both humans and machines at Facebook will be moderating the space for inappropriate content. When detected (or if, given Facebook’s shoddy moderating history), such content will be scrubbed from the app.
A Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo, “We’ve built automated systems that can detect things like nudity, violence, and child exploitative imagery to help limit that content from being shared on Messenger Kids. We also have blocking and reporting mechanisms, and have a dedicated team of human reviewers that review all content that is reported.”
As for why Facebook is launching the app, the company said in email that “many of us at Facebook are parents ourselves, and it seems we weren’t alone when we realised that our kids were getting online earlier and earlier,” citing an external study from Dubit that found that 93 per cent of six to 12-year-olds in the US have access to tablets or smartphones.
While parents might love Messenger Kids, it remains to be seen if children will want use an app that their parents control. My guess is, probably the hell not – not when so many kids have their own personal devices that connect to the internet. They will likely turn to other apps that allow them to chat with whoever they want without running it by mum or dad first.
Even if kids do end up flocking to the new app, there are still privacy concerns to consider. Facebook is not immune to security breaches, and the social network has a history of experimenting on its users. Parents would be misguided to believe that they have the ultimate authority over their child’s experience. In reality, Facebook does.
Messenger Kids is currently only available in the US.