Facebook have recently unveiled Messenger Kids, a standalone app that lives on a child’s device, but is ultimately controlled by their parent’s Facebook account. The extra layer of oversight will be somewhat of a relief as parents have to set the account up, as well as having control over which contacts their kids can message. On top of this there are no ads or micro-transactions on the platform so parents can rest easy that their not being marketed to directly through the platform or that they inadvertently spend thousands on a game.
This is a natural move for Facebook who are always looking to grow their user base – getting children into the Facebook ecosystem at an early age will mean they are able to grow and learn about online services in a safe environment, yet when they do finally hit that big 13 will be very familiar with Facebook’s UI and so are more likely to stick around.
There are only a handful of social media platforms explicitly designed for children. For the most part they are safe spaces where adults can feel at least somewhat reassured that their offspring won’t be subjected to inappropriate content or abuse – although as seen on Club Penguin that is not always the case (https://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/the-xx-best-ways-to-get-banned-from-club-penguin). This is where Messenger Kids is a refreshing change – it gives peace of mind to the parents not only from the chaperoning angle, but also because the platform sits within the Facebook ecosystem that they are no doubt well familiar with.
A lot has been written about online safety for minors. Today’s parents are negotiating uncharted waters in navigating their children’s through how to use the internet safely, as well as trying to find the right balance between screen time and good old fashioned get-muddy-in-a-puddle-downtime so this move from Facebook will probably be met by equal parts relief and concern. Relief that measures are available to help protect their loved ones. Concern that naturalising a symbiotic relationship with electronic devices at a young age could be damaging to a generation ill-equipped with the ability to disconnect.