Facebook just found a new way to nab younger users.
The social network announced Monday it’s launching a new app, Messenger Kids, which allows children to use Facebook’s messaging software — the first time the company has allowed children younger than 13 to have an official presence on any of its platforms.
Think of Messenger Kids as a kind of stripped-down version of the regular Messenger app, but with a bunch of extra parental controls. Kids can swap messages; make video calls; and share selfies, GIFs, and stickers with people on their (parent-approved) friends list. The app is available now to iPhone users in the United States.
But because it’s a standalone service, Messenger Kids accounts are treated much differently than the typical Facebook account. There are no ads, and Facebook says it won’t hand over data from Messenger Kids to advertisers.
The social network has also done its best to wall off Messenger Kids accounts from Facebook’s main social graph — the only people who have the ability to see a child’s Messenger account are friends of their parents.
“Parents control every facet of it,” said Product Management Director at Facebook Loren Cheng.
Facebook said it spent the past 18 months talking with childhood development and safety experts to come up with a set of controls that will satisfy the majority of parents’ potential concerns.
Here’s what they came up with:
A Messenger Kids account must be associated with a parent’s existing Facebook account
Parents approve all friend requests via their own Facebook account
Adults must be Facebook friends with the parent of the child they want to message
If another child on Messenger Kids wants to chat, then the parents of both children need to be Facebook friends
Parents are notified if a child blocks or reports an account, and they can take those actions on their child’s behalf as well — though they can’t read their messages without the child’s device
Additionally, Facebook has a dedicated team of reviewers who monitor reports from Messenger Kids accounts. The company also uses software that can automatically detect certain types of content, like nudity, and prevent it from being shared within the app
But even with those safeguards, the app will still likely raise concerns among some parents, particularly as supposedly kid-friendly services like YouTube Kids are facing a backlash for the prevalence of disturbing content.
For its part, Facebook said the app is meant to address a real issue families with young kids face: balancing the desire to be connected on social media with safety.
“We believe that it’s possible to give kids a fun experience that provides more peace of mind for parents, too,” Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis writes in a blog post.
That may be true, but it’s difficult to ignore another, potentially huge, upside for Facebook that a dedicated kid-centric product like Messenger Kids comes with: lots and lots of young eyeballs.
Even though Messenger Kids is a far cry from the full Facebook experience, and doesn’t have any tie-ins to the company’s advertising network, there’s no getting around the fact that it opens up the possibility of hooking a new generation on Facebook long before they’re old enough to even have their own accounts.
And, considering the 13-year-old social network’s problem attracting younger teens, exposing kids to Facebook — and, yes, it’s Snapchat-like selfie masks — before they’re old enough to question whether their parents’ social media is cool, could result in more engaged future users.
“Parents are still cool at that age,” Messenger chief David Marcus observed of the app’s key demographic.
Maybe, now, the company can convince kids that Facebook is pretty cool, too.