By Udita Shukla
Recently, Facebook launched the newest version of its Messenger chat app, but with a difference. It is meant for children within the age bracket of six to twelve. Known as Messenger Kids, the app does not require a Facebook account, which is primarily to maintain compliance with a federal law which forbids the online site’s usage by kids under the age of thirteen. The control over friend and family connections rests with the parents, who will be able to monitor the people their kids interact with.
Features of Messenger Kids
Currently only available in the United States on the iOS platform, the app will soon be made accessible to the users of Amazon App Store and Google Play Store in the coming months. Messenger Kids essentially includes text and video chat, along with perky masks, filters and emoticons. Facebook says that there is a “library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools to let them decorate content and express their personalities.” The screen is carefully designed to display not only (parent-approved) online friends but also preexisting one-on-one chats and group threads.
As per a blog post by the software giant, “There are no ads in Messenger Kids, and your child’s information isn’t used for ads. It is free to download, and there are no in-app purchases.” Evidently, Facebook has adopted a clear stance against online child exploitation and inappropriate exposure. It ensures adherence to the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) that protects underage children from online exploitation. In a significant feature incorporated to insulate the app against misuse, parents are required to authenticate using their Facebook username and password just after the app is download. This step makes Messenger Kids just an extension (although distant) of the parent’s own Facebook account.
There has been a lot of noise about the unwanted repercussions of online networking. The current case reinforces the concerns as they pertain to children, who are not expected to be aware of the good and the bad of the world. However, many condemn this step as Facebook has invented yet another avenue for kids to mature before their age and immerse themselves in the compulsive habit of online communication.
The current social fabric is drastically different from the one existing a generation ago. The average citizen believes much more in the power of a personal brand and relationships that form as a result of a robust virtual identity. A perfect example is the professional networking platform, LinkedIn. Recruiters, potentials managers and even colleagues would instead comb through someone’s (LinkedIn) profile before reaching a verdict on the talent and knowledge of an employee.
A means to shape overall development
Are we exposing children to the same obsession, or is it a ladder to help them search and learn to forge bonds in their own personal space? Evidently, it would be unjust to criticise the move upfront without weighing its possible consequences. One of the most intriguing perspectives of the argument is to explore and discover the behaviour of children with each other, with no adult around to pass on that mechanical, socially acceptable flavour to a conversation. Undeniably, the scenario is loosely reminiscent of the experiment conducted by King James IV of Scotland, which entailed marooning a deaf and mute woman with two babies on Inchkeith Island, Scotland, to discover the natural language of mortals.
Fortunately, this time, the case is not as diabolical to deprive kids of complete human communication. If used judiciously, the new app might very well prove helpful to the inherently introvert and reserved kids, to open up and discover themselves, before stepping out into the world and fight their social inhibitions.
Network vs Values
Nonetheless, the current fixation with the many faces of the digitised world, say, for example, selfies have led many people to fatal accidents, and is a testimony to the ruin that excessive networking and image-consciousness can bring upon us. The world has witnessed both the bright side of optimal usage of online networking as well as the dark side of addictive consumption.
Perhaps, all we need to do is teach our kids the value of an honest, true identity, and the value-addition that social networking undoubtedly gives to one’s personality. The actual outcome will eventually unfold in its own time.