Child development experts have called on Facebook to pull the plug on its new messaging app aimed at kids.
In a letter sent on Tuesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the experts argue that younger children are not ready to have social media accounts, navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.
Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app in December, pitching it as a way for children to chat with family members and friends approved by parents.
The app, which is intended for children under 13, doesn’t give children separate Facebook or Messenger accounts. It works instead as an extension of a parent's account, and parents get controls such as the ability to decide who their children can chat with.
The social media giant says it fills "a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want". But critics see the move as a way for Facebook to lure in a younger audience before they could move on to a rival service such as Snapchat.
The group of 100 experts and parenting organisations contests Facebook's claim it is filling a need.
"Messenger Kids is not responding to a need - it is creating one," the letter states. "It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts."
The letter referenced concerns over the effect of social media on young people, saying: “At a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents’ wellbeing, it is particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as preschoolers to start using a Facebook product.”
Encouraging kids to move their friendships online, the letter added, would “interfere with and displace the face-to-face interactions and play that are crucial for building healthy developmental skills”.
In a statement, Facebook said that it “worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA.”
“We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids be the best experience it can be for families,” it said.
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