Facebook is launching a chat app for children under 13. The social media giant is now officially opening up to children. The free app, essentially an enhanced, kid-friendly version of Facebook’s Messenger, hopes to cater to both parents and children. Messenger Kids is meant to be a combination of child-friendly features, safety, and parental control. Facebook’s Product Management Director, Loren Cheng, announced this in a blog post published today.
According to Cheng, the app was developed in cooperation with experts. Organizations such as National PTA and Blue Star Families were consulted, as well as expert advisers in the areas of child development. Messenger Kids is meant to fill a blatant market hole. According to Tech Crunch, the app is designed to “neutralize child predator threats that plague youth-focused competitors like Snapchat.”
Snapchat, however, is not the only widely used internet platform plagued by child predators. More recently, YouTube’s child exploitation scandal, dubbed Elsagate, has received a lot of media attention. The video platform is now clamping down on problematic videos, but only after multiple advertisers put their YouTube ads on hold. Messenger Kids is, in that sense, meant to be everything YouTube Kids is not – a safe platform for children, which makes parents the gatekeepers. This is a standalone app that only a parent can control via their own Facebook account and only parents can add friends. A dedicated support team is meant to respond as quickly as possible to reported or flagged content in order to prevent children from sharing sexual or violent content. Audio and video calls with Snapchat-like filters, masks, and stickers are another attempt to make communication more fun for the young ones.
The Guardian spoke to Stephen Balkam, chief executive of an organization called Family Online Safety Institute. Mr. Balkam said, “Despite US federal law prohibiting companies from collecting personal information on those under 13 years old without parental consent, millions are already on Facebook, with or without their parents.” He then added that Facebook is “trying to deal with the situation pragmatically by steering young Facebook users to a service designed for them.”
Messenger Kids will not be directly monetized and once users turn 13, their profiles will not morph into real Facebook accounts. It is up to the parent to set up a mini profile for their kid and then authenticate the child’s profile using their own. It is, however, important to note that Messenger Kids is inter-operable with the regular Messenger app, so adults are not required to download the kid-friendly app to their gadget.