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Ban Facebook Messenger for Kids, urge children’s health advocates

A coalition of 97 advocates cites Facebook's numerous missteps, including research into targeting kids as young as 14 who feel "worthless."

Social media can be bad for you, admits “yea, we did it anyway” Facebook.
Technology glitterati are shunning it like it’s a cyber roach motel with psychological bedbugs.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s made it his yearly personal goal to scrub out hate/abuse/political machination/depression-spawning. So how does Facebook kick off this year of change?
…It rolls out Messenger for Kids, aimed at children between the ages of six and 12 who would otherwise be (technically, per Facebook policy) banned from becoming Facebook users.
Great. Or instead, how about NO??!!??, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has suggested to Zuckerberg.
The tall glass of Nope was suggested in a letter on Tuesday. In it, the CCFC asked Zuckerberg to axe Messenger for Kids, regardless of the fact that the app is advertising-free.
The coalition of 97 child health advocates cited “a growing body of research [that] demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens” and that the app is likely to “undermine children’s healthy development.”

We are writing to urge you to discontinue Messenger Kids, Facebook’s first social media app designed specifically for children under the age of 13. Given Facebook’s enormous reach and marketing prowess, Messenger Kids will likely be the first social media platform widely used by elementary school children.

The letter was signed by individuals and 19 nonprofits including Common Sense Media, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Parents Across America. They cited recent studies that link increased depression, poor sleeping habits, and unhealthy body image in children and teens with higher use of social media and digital devices.

Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users. They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos.

In spite of such findings, when Facebook launched Messenger for Kids in December, it told TechCrunch that it had hired a special team to build tools for kids – such as fidget spinners, dinosaur-augmented reality (AR) masks, and crayon-style stickers – that would keep them engaged with the app for longer than they could manage if Facebook weren’t tinkering with their brains.
TechCrunch quoted Facebook’s head of Messenger, David Marcus:

Video calls become so much more playful with AR. Sometimes after five or ten minutes it’s really hard to have a sustained conversation with a 7-year-old.

Imagine that. 7-year-olds find it difficult to glue their butts to their seats. Sheesh! What would they rather do, go outside and get exercise? Talk to somebody in the flesh?

As Wired notes, the CCFC’s letter adds to the pile of growing concern about the impact of technology on our minds and bodies. Wired cited a public letter written in January by two major Apple shareholders who cited some of the same studies as the CCFC. They asked Apple to address the potentially negative effect of smartphone usage on children, including funding research and building better tools for parents.
Some of the findings they cite:

  • Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media have a 27% higher risk of depression, while those who exceed the average time spent playing sports, hanging out with friends in person, or doing homework have a significantly lower risk.
  • US teenagers who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely, and those who spend five hours or more are 71% more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than one hour. (This finding comes from the research of Professor Jean M. Twenge, psychologist at San Diego State University, who is also a co-signer of the CCFC’s letter to Zuckerberg.)
  • Teens who spend five or more hours a day (versus less than one hour) on electronic devices are 51% more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep (versus the recommended nine hours). Sleep deprivation is linked to long-term issues like weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • A study by UCLA researchers showed that after five days at a device-free outdoor camp, children performed far better on tests for empathy than a control group.

In its letter, the CCFC also noted Facebook’s rocky road over the past year, including increased scrutiny over its dissemination of fake news; the revelation that it had researched how to target teens as young as 14 when they feel “worthless;” how it’s allowed advertisers to discriminate based on age and race; and how it’s enabled advertisers to target messages to racists and anti-Semites.
Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to “do better.” The CCFC knows exactly how he can do that: he can instruct Facebook to leave young children alone, leaving them to “develop without the pressures that come with social media use.”
In short, Mr. Facebook president, tear down that app:

Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough. We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the wellbeing of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids.

1 Comment

Sure, there’s a downside in terms of lost childhoods, early onset adult-level anxiety for little kids, and the occasional pre-teen suicide- but Mr. Zuckerberg needs a way to herd the next generation into the FB blackhole. Prepare those kids to assimilate into the social media Borg as soon as they are age-eligible to leave IRL behind.


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