Go play… inside? Facebook debuts Messenger Kids

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In an announcement yesterday, Facebook revealed its latest app for iPhone and iPad: Messenger Kids. The app is meant for kids aged 6-12 too young to actually have a real Facebook account (where you have to be at least 13), and also for parents to protect their offspring from the big, bad world of social media until they’re old enough to handle it.

Because, like with Judaism, you become a social media adult at 13. Apparently.

But it smacks pretty clearly of a grand get-them-hooked-early mantra that worked so well for big tobacco. If a child has already become familiar with the Facebook infrastructure and has become hooked, it does seem rather likely that they’ll continue into their teen years and beyond.

Just a thought: Will we someday have “Truth” campaigns to keep kids from starting social media accounts?

Though, it is important to note, Facebook has made clear that the accounts won’t automatically/magically turn into regular Facebook accounts when the child comes of age at 13.

But there are those who see serious cause for concern. The app does collect the content of children’s messages, photos they send, features they use, and what device they’re using them on, apparently to make life better (for who?) with the app, i.e. improve the functionality of Messenger Kids.

Wired magazine’s attempt to address these concerns prompted a fairly generic,

“It’s important to remember that Messenger Kids does not have ads and we don’t use the data for advertising. This provision about sharing information with vendors from the privacy policy is for things like providing infrastructure to deliver messages.”

from a Facebook spokesperson.

A new type of education

But kids, as kids, are learning at the fastest rates they ever will. They’re going to be exposed to these things one way or another, and creating a platform to do that in a way that kids’ are more apt to understand is not necessarily a bad thing.

Another thought: Twitter will need to up its game and launch “Tot Tweets” before they get left behind. How many more years can Donald Trump sustain them?

And the notion of starting kids on media is nothing new anyway. Sports Illustrated has their Sports lllustrated for Kids, and there’s National Geographic for Little Kids as well because expanding minds and access to interests shouldn’t be limited by age.

Well. Some things maybe should be, as most parents would probably agree. Much of what is seen on the average Facebook feed no one should have to experience, let alone little Timmy who still thinks that Donald Duck is highbrow humor.

Which is why Facebook is putting much time and money into keeping the app under the supervision of adults, and severely limiting what kids will have access to when they use it. Parents will sign off on everything, including downloading the app and signing up. They are allowed to monitor everything that happens along the way, and, as Messenger Kids’ accounts won’t be searchable, parents can be the ones sending and responding to any and all friend requests.

Facebook, and others like Google, which has already launched YouTube Kids, argue that it’s simply bringing younger (potential) users into the fold. Especially, as access to devices and media becomes increasingly ubiquitous, it’s near impossible to keep kids away. And, as Whitney Houston told us so long ago, they are the future.

Smile for the future

Which is why the endgame is still fairly clear, even if Facebook is playing the “we only want to keep your kids safe” card. In addition to the obvious early-branding strategy we’ve already mentioned, there’s also the considerably less abstract feature that requires parents to sign up and maintain a regular Facebook account if they want to communicate/connect with and manage their children through Messenger Kids.

It’s bringing in new users from every generation, which is exactly what corporations, at least those with any type of foresight, need to do. It’s up to you whether or not you want to be a part of it.

(Android users don’t have to worry about it at all for now, as the app is currently only available on Apple products anyway.)

Find it here: messengerkids.com

Parents? What do you think? Let us know at hello@tcagenda.com

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Wordsmith extraordinaire. Impeccable manners, sometimes. Formerly CBS Local, currently TiltMN. In a world of clickbait, sensationalism, and dollar-based journalism, he works tirelessly to present a better brand of internet news.