A version of Facebook’s popular text and video messaging app aimed at children under the age of 13 is now available in Canada, Facebook said on Friday, despite concerns from advocates that children are ill-equipped to use social media at such a young age.
Messenger Kids was first made available in the United States at the end of last year, and has been pitched as a means for parents to let their kids chat with close friends and family in a safer and more controlled environment than other messaging apps.
However, Messenger Kids has attracted criticism from some experts who argue that young children are not yet able to navigate the complexities of privacy and social etiquette online, and that an increase in screen time could interfere with the development of healthy relationship skills that otherwise come from face-to-face interactions.
In January, more than 100 child advocates, civil society groups, medical experts and other individuals signed a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlining their concerns and asking that the app be discontinued.
Facebook says that it developed the app in collaboration with parents and experts — including the Canadian digital literacy organization MediaSmarts — and has taken their feedback into account. Some of those experts and their organizations have reportedly received research funding or donations from Facebook in recent years.
Unlike the standard version of the service, Facebook says that Messenger Kids does not include ads, and that kids’ accounts are separate from standard Facebook accounts. It also allows parents to approve contacts and limit when the app can be used.