By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., U.S.A. – Last month, Facebook launched a new messenger app for kids as young as 6 years old. This is way below the previous minimum age that Facebook required users be for their apps, which was 13. Now, dozens of pediatric and mental health experts are asking Facebook to remove the app.

Facebook has created a messaging app for kids. Photo Courtesy of New York Times.

These experts composed a letter from the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood. Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood is an advocacy group which pushes companies to abandon marketing like the Pokemon Go app. The app sent children to all kinds of stores and fast food restaurants. McDonalds even advertised on children’s report cards in Florida.  But the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood says Facebook’s new app creates bigger concerns than those created by Pokemon Go.

“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the experts said in the letter. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”

In a study released in late January, the research stated that an increase in social media and smartphone use in children led to greater unhappiness in teenagers.

What is the Messenger Kids app? The app is a texting app that a parent can set up for their child. It works through the parent’s Facebook account. The parent sets up the account, but it is in no other way a part of the Facebook app. The app is missing “like” buttons and a newsfeed which are parts of what experts believe lead to depression and anxiety for teenagers on social media. What is included in the app are emojis, video chat, selfies and group texting.

Facebook argues that their new app provides a safer environment for children online than many other apps to social media sites. One such difference is that the app has no advertising. Facebook also says they worked with the National PTA before introducing the app. “Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions,” Facebook said in a statement.

Still, health advocates say that the app was created explicitly to hook users to keep using it and by allowing such a low age, they are giving themselves early access to the next potential generation of users.

Michael Brody, a former chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said, “Facebook is making children into a market, and the youngest children will be more likely to get hooked even earlier.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Facebook ‘No Place’ For Young Children – 30 January 2018

Telegraph – Health Experts Urge Facebook to Pull Children’s App – 30 January 2018

NYT – Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Say to Facebook – 30 January 2018

Author: Sarah Louise Purtill

is a second-year law student at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL). In addition to being an Impunity Watch News Reporter, she is an Associate Editor for the Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce. Sarah is the Media Managing Editor for Syracuse Law and Civic Engagement Forum as well as the Treasurer for Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity’s Carmody Chapter at SUCOL. She is also serving her second term as a Class Senator for the Student Bar Association at SUCOL. Sarah is a student attorney at the Elder and Health Law Clinic of SUCOL. Sarah graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Honors Program in June of 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Minor in History. Sarah expects to graduate with her Juris Doctor from SUCOL in May of 2019.