On Monday morning, Facebook unveiled Messenger Kids, a new standalone messaging app on iOS in the US that’s meant for kids as young as 6 years old.
The app’s design is elegant and its privacy features appear thoughtful — kids can only chat with contacts approved by parents — but Facebook has repeatedly proven itself incapable of anticipating the worst of human nature. The company’s move to attract children as users is likely to generate a good deal of scrutiny.
As Messenger Kids debuts, more than a few parents might ask themselves whether they really want their first-graders to use a product created by a company whose core experience has already been gamed by trolls, liars, and a Russian state-sponsored operation meant to sow chaos in US politics and society. It’s also fair to ask whether Messenger Kids is simply another Facebook product intended to grow its user base, and if kids so young (six!) should really be using messaging apps at all.
At a small press briefing in San Francisco last week, Facebook did its best to provide answers to these questions. A product manager detailed the app’s safety precautions: Parents entirely control account creation and contact management in Messenger Kids, he said. And parents can only add contacts for their kids if they themselves are friends with those contacts’ parents on Facebook. Parents manage their kid’s app inside their own Facebook apps. Messenger Kids also has specialized reporting that allows kids to report friends who are being mean, and it notifies parents when these reports are filed. There are also human…