Facebook’s messaging service for kids has been met with some disapproval. Child health advocates want Mark Zuckerberg to delete the app altogether, believing it to be detrimental to the development of young minds. Instead, Facebook expanded the reach of its app and, most recently, afforded more parental controls.
On Friday, Facebook announced Sleep Mode, a new feature that lets parents preset times their kids won’t be able to use the app. Parents can already control a child’s contact list and access their messages. “But parents also told us they would like controls that make the app inaccessible at a certain time, like during dinner, homework time or bedtime,” Facebook said in the post, which is effectively what the Sleep Mode feature affords parents.
It’s not inherently a bad thing for parents to have more control over how their young children navigate the internet, especially given Messenger Kids is for kids as young as six years old. But the issues raised by child advocacy groups, which argued in its letter in January that “Messenger Kids is not responding to a need – it is creating one.”
Nearly 100 child health advocates signed the letter, which highlights studies indicating the downsides of screen time, such as depression, negative body image, sleep deprivation, and stress. There are also privacy concerns to consider—Facebook is still figuring out how to efficiently moderate its primary social network. Why should we trust that it will be better at filtering out vitriolic or inappropriate content for kids?
“Will Facebook listen? I think we’re at a pivotal moment where there is increasing concern about the role that the big tech companies are having in shaping our children, our families, our society and democracy,” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood told Gizmodo in January. “Getting rid of an app that habituates young children into using social media seems like a good first step for Mark Zuckerberg to make good on his pledge to ‘do better.’”
Facebook said in a Hard Questions post in December that it’s working with experts and investing in research in order to figure out whether spending time on social media is actually good for us. But it’s hard to imagine that if evidence pointed to no—or that it was poisoning our minds—Facebook would shutter its social networking services. It’s easy to imagine, though, that they would keep them running—maybe just with some more parental controls.