In an era where we all love to blame someone or something for our problems, the recent outrage directed at Facebook’s new Messenger Kids app has created a new wave of “social media is destroying young lives” stories.
But here’s a newsflash – it’s not Messenger Kids or social media in general that’s the problem. It’s the fact that parents don’t know how to help their kids manage their online interactions.
Alarmingly, a recent Australian study reported that 60 per cent of parents do not monitor the online activities of their children at all, and those that do generally rely on “set-and-forget” methods like blocking that has been proven time and again not to be effective.
So what exactly is Messenger Kids and why all the fuss?
LISTEN: Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens have a big problem with the Messenger Kids app. They discuss, on Mamamia Out Loud.
Facebook has only just launched the Messenger Kids app in the US, so it’s a good opportunity for parents in Australia to do their research and check out what early users have to say before it lands here.
Messenger Kids is targeting the under-13s who are too young to set up their own Facebook account. After downloading the app parents create a profile for their child, login with their existing Facebook credentials and then can approve or request any contact their child wants to add to their account.
This gives parents a level of control in terms of who their child can chat to, but research shows that keeping kids safe online requires different approaches: technology + education = empowerment.
Kids can then have live video chats with individuals or in a group, send photos and videos from the device they are using, and send instant messages and kid friendly GIFs, stickers, filters (like Snapchat) and emojis. Facebook also claims that all conversations are monitored and saved and that kids are able to report inappropriate behaviour, with notifications sent to parent Facebook accounts. The app also provides pop-up feedback and dedicated moderation of content, which includes safety filters that prevent kids from sending or receiving sexually explicit images.
There are those who welcome the development of Messenger Kids. With kids going online at much earlier ages and many of the under-13 year olds already using social media services such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, Messenger Kids provides a platform to prepare them for their ‘always on’ lives.
Consider this an introduction to the challenging world of social media, with some commentators claiming this Messenger Kids app targets the next generation of Facebook users who will be automatically migrated to Facebook when they turn 13. A well thought out marketing strategy!
Not surprisingly, there are also strong views opposing Messenger Kids. Potential downsides include data privacy, screen addiction and undermining the benefits of play and socialising offline.
Facebook claims in its announcement that any data collected on Messenger Kids will be ‘limited’ but parents need to be informed about what this actually means including what type of data and how will it be used or shared with third parties?