After rolling out in the U.S. last year, Messenger Kids is now in Canada, and it’s designed for kids to connect with family and friends and to give parents more control to approve contacts and set time limits through the app’s “sleep mode.” It also does not have any advertisement and protects children’s online privacy, according to Facebook.
The app is different from Facebook’s main social network and the regular version of Messenger — with both platforms you need to be at least 13 years old to sign up.
The rollout comes even as the kid-friendly app sparked criticism from educational and child development groups in the U.S., who say excessive exposure to social media is harmful for children.
Critics say Messenger Kids serves to lure kids into harmful social media use and to hook young people on Facebook as it tries to compete with Snapchat or its own Instagram app.
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In January, a group of 20 organizations signed an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, calling the app harmful and urged the company to discontinue it.
“A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development,” the letter stated.
According to a 2017 report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the U.K., social media used is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep among young people.
“Research suggests that young people who are heavy users of social media — spending more than two hours per day on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram — are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress,” the study stated.
However, the authors stated that social media can also help create an “emotional support” system to prevent and address mental health issues.
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“We designed Messenger Kids from the ground up with elements that teach kids how to better understand and express their emotions in creative ways, encourage and promote healthy social behaviours, and deepen positive connections between kids and their close friends and families,” Facebook wrote in the post.
— With a file from the Associated Press