MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - How young is too young for social media? More than 100 child development experts and advocates asked Facebook to answer this question by urging the social networking giant to pull the plug on Messenger Kids.
It's a new app designed specifically for children between the ages of 6 and 13.
In a promotional video, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said, "As a mom, I know how meaningful it can be when kids use technology to connect with family and friends. But I also know how important it is to make sure they are safe whenever they go online. That's why I'm excited about Messenger Kids. It's a video chat and messaging app for families and kids, and it's designed to give parents more control when their kids start to communicate online."
However, a letter sent to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood claims Facebook created this app for a different reason.
"Messenger Kids is not responding to a need – it is creating one. It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts. It is disingenuous to use Facebook's failure to keep underage users off their platforms as a rationale for targeting younger children with a new product," the letter said. "Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users. They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what's appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos."
Internet Crimes Against Children Investigator Corporal Mira Shaw shares these concerns about other apps, too.
"More and more apps are becoming available every day for kids to have access to. People are becoming more tech savvy and try to hide like all their actions and what they're doing," Shaw said.
She believes these dangers aren't specific to any certain app though.
"New apps come out every time, every day, every week, every month," Shaw said. "It's just very hard to keep up with everything, but we do the best we can. We go to training frequently."
She said these cases aren't easy to investigate or prosecute.
"An issue that has occurred numerous times is that a parent, once they find out their child has been solicited, they will try and presume the persona of that child," Shaw said. "Once they do that, it's extremely hard for us to do our job because the parent has taken over the persona of that child."
She said that's something they ask parents not to do.
"Don't try and talk to this person and try and weasel information out of them. It's not going to help us. It's going to hinder us and hinder the investigation," Shaw said.
However, Facebook said their new Messenger Kids App would give parents more say in what their kids can do and who they can contact.
Below is a statement from Facebook regarding the letter from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: