Should your child be on Facebook?
A coalition of advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday asserting that Facebook’s Messenger Kids is violating privacy laws meant to protect children and incentivizing getting on the app at younger ages. The letter, filed by a dozen nonprofits including Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, implored the FTC to investigate Facebook.
“While evidence shows that excessive social media use negatively impacts the well-being of children and teens, Facebook is trying to get kids hooked at the tender age of five,” Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said.
The groups previously asked Facebook FB, +2.16% to kill its Messenger service for children in a letter to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in February. Child advocates say children as young as six years old could experience the negative effects of social media from the app. They said the app violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) by not clearly obtaining parental consent or allowing parents to request that it delete children’s personal information. Facebook said it built the app in compliance with the law, which prohibits collecting information on minors without explicit parental consent.
“We built [Messenger Kids] from the ground up with input from families as well as privacy and safety experts to protect kids’ privacy and put parents in control,” a Facebook spokeswoman told MarketWatch. “We’ve heard from them that Messenger Kids is one of the safest apps for kids to connect with their family and friends, and we also continue to support research on the relationship between technology and kids’ wellbeing.”
Still, Golin said it is best to “keep young kids away from Facebook.” While the groups await FTC responses to the complaint, here are some tips for keeping your child safe online.
Young kids should be protected from the dark side of social media
So at what age should children be allowed to use Facebook? As late as possible, said Scott Steinberg, professional speaker and author of ‘Parenting High-Tech Kids’ — but at least 13 and older.
Kids need to be fully prepared to deal with the downside to social media, including cyber bullying and age-inappropriate content, as parents have seen with YouTube GOOG, -0.04% , which has come under fire for showing disturbing content to children inadvertently through its suggested video algorithms.
“When it comes to social media, it is best to keep kids off messaging apps as long as possible until they need it for practical reasons or you feel they are mature and responsible enough to utilize it safely,” Steinberg said.
Kids lie about their age so they can use social media
Facebook said the Messenger app, which it launched in December 2017, was developed to address the growing number of children under 13 who lie about their age to use the adult version of the messaging app, and to give parents more control over the social media their children use. The children’s version allows parents to approve specific friends and see with whom their child communicates. Facebook’s research found 81% of parents say children start using social media and messaging apps between the ages of 8 and 13. Messenger Kids is meant to be a tool to allow kids to have safe access to these tools, Facebook said.
Facebook and other social media platforms have been shown to damage the mental health of children and increase anxiety and eating disorders: Teenagers are more unhappy the more they interact on social media, one study released earlier this month showed. It found eighth graders who use social media for 6 to 9 hours per week are 47% more likely to report they are unhappy than their peers who use social media less often.
Another study found girls between the ages of 10 and 12 were more likely to idealize thinness, have concerns about weight, and diet when they use social media often.
Facebook says children benefit from social media
Facebook says the social networking app can be of real benefit for families, especially those with working parents. “Since we launched in December we’ve heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to video chat with fun masks with family members near and far,” a Messenger spokeswoman said in February.
“For example, we’ve heard stories of parents working night shifts being able read bedtime stories to their children and moms who travel for work getting daily updates from their kids while they’re away,” she added. “We 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.”
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) restricts the collection of data on children under 13 without parental consent. Facebook has said it will not use data from the app for marketing purposes, but the app will certainly begin to use their data after they turn 13, said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “If you get kids using Facebook when they are seven, there is a much bigger chance they’ll stay on Facebook into their teens,” he said.
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