In an open letter to Facebook, child health experts call the app an “irresponsible” attempt to attract kids onto social media
Health experts affirm that children are not mentally prepared to have social media accounts, due to the fact that they are not ready to face digital relationships which entail a new variety of emotions and behaviors that still baffle adults.
The open letter written to Facebook by said experts states that, “Messenger Kids will likely be the first social media platform widely used by elementary school children [...] but 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”.
The activists also cited a wide range of research that links teenagers’ social media interaction to increased depression and anxiety; "Eighth graders [13- to 14-year-olds] who use social media for six to nine hours per week are 47% more likely to report they are unhappy than their peers who use social media less often”.
The letter also states that studies have found that 10 to 12 year old girls are more likely to idealise food related illnesses, such as anorexia and bulimia, and feel concern about their bodies, which has led them to try extreme diets.
In response, the social media company publicly stated:
"Since we launched in December, we've heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to stay in touch with family members near and far. For example, we've heard stories of parents working night shifts being able read bedtime stories to their children, and moms who travel for work getting daily updates from their kids while they're away”.
But these statements only fueled the unconformity of those against the app. Various argued that parents can just lend their children their applications, such as Skype, Facebook, and even WhatsApp, if interacting with relatives is a priority. They also state that if talking to family members who live near and far is a necessity, calling them via telephone is also a safe a approach.
Representatives of Facebook affirmed that the app was designed alongside safety experts to assure that the application would give parents the opportunity to enforce more control over how their children interact through social media.
The app is a simplified, children-friendly version of the original Facebook’s Messenger app; it requires parental approval before use and the information gathered from it will not be used for advertising.
The letter was signed by a wide range of youth welfare groups, such as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union and Parents Across America. British scientist Baroness Susan Greenfield also participated.
Latin American Post | Susana Cicchetto