While Facebook has been widely known as a hands-off platform for kids under the age of 13, the social media giant has debuted an offering that both kids and parents can now legitimately wrap their heads around.
The company’s first social media app for children ages six to 12, Messenger Kids, rolled out as a preview in the US today. It includes videos, pictures and messaging capabilities, and is available for free through the App Store for iPad, iPod touch and iPhone. (Messenger Kids will eventually make its way to the Amazon App Store and Google Play Store.)
Messenger Kids is a separate standalone entity that can be controlled from a parent’s Facebook account. It includes photo-editing capabilities including GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, drawing tools and AR filters for kids. There are no ads or in-app purchases, and it is compliant with the US Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Once the app is downloaded and a child’s account is set up by the parent, kids can have one-on-one or group chats with pre-approved contacts. Adults will also receive the child’s messages within the regular Messenger app.
Facebook consulted with thousands of parents, associations like National PTA and childhood development experts to build an offering that promoted online safety. And the launch of Messenger Kids comes as UK-based research firm Dubit reports that 93% of US six- to 12-year-olds have access to tablets or smartphones, and 66% have a device of their own. Moreover, the National PTA found that three out of five US parents said their kids were using messaging apps, social media or both. Another 81% of parents surveyed by the National PTA said children started using social media between the ages of eight and 13. In the UK, meanwhile, Ofcom recently found that half of under-13s have social media profiles.
On the heels of all of this research, Facebook has launched a new US$1 million research fund to work with academics, experts and partners across the industry to further explore tech’s long-term impact on children.
Other big companies have been jumping on parent-controlled social media experiences, with Google launching its Family Link service to monitor kids’ online activity, Disney working with Circle to restrict access to apps and websites, and Amazon rolling out the Parent Dashboard to give parents information on what their kids are watching and reading online. LEGO also created a social media app for under-13s earlier this year. LEGO Life is a free app-focused social network that gives kids a safe online platform to combine physical and digital play experiences.