Dear Mark Zuckerberg, Post This: “Facebook Discontinues Messenger Kids”

By: Gloria DeGaetano

Dear Mark,

You seem like a nice enough guy. I mean, if you lived in our cul-de-sac and if the wind had blown our garbage can lid off (as it does during high wind season here in the Pacific Northwest) and you heard it clattering around, I think you would go out and chase it down and put it back on securely. Or if you were too busy to do that, you might text me about it. If I didn’t respond in a few minutes, you would understand, shaking your head knowingly, yet kindly, and understanding that since I am of an older generation than you and I don’t roam around with my cell phone as a bodily extension, texting may not be the best way to communicate with me. Shrugging it off, I bet you would go outside even in the high winds and cold rain, to replace my garbage can lid if you heard it clattering in the cul-de-sac.

You’re probably really nice like that. You would have my back. You would make a great neighbor, Mark!

I want to be clear that this letter to you is not meant to replace the terrific one the team at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood composed and I, along with over 100 other experts, signed. That letter provides all the relevant research to convince you to discontinue Messenger Kids. I felt honored to be asked to sign it. You would be wise to take the advice of all these experts. Read their books. Ponder their research and ideas carefully. I think you would then come to the conclusion that Messenger Kids is a bad idea for our children and everyone’s future, including yours and Facebook’s.

[Sign the petition and tell Mark Zuckerberg: No Facebook for five-year-olds]

And really…You being a genius, and all, it’s not like rocket science, nor even computer science, nor complex math algorithms, to understand human children do not need your service to be in contact with human adults.

Much has been written about certain advocacy groups which consulted with Facebook before you launched Messenger Kids. Perhaps they are not your best advice givers? Perhaps they have succumbed to the industry-culture—the culture families inhabit, but don’t directly create, anymore. Much of our current popular culture is now generated by the businesses of the billionaire culture. You, and the others, whether you know it or not, are feeding us our “signifying system,” a definition of culture that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s from the Welsh scholar, Raymond Williams, who says in his book, Problems of Materialism and Culture, “Culture is a signifying system by which a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored.”  When young children use Messenger Kids it acts as a signifier system of what is supposed to be important, meaningful to them.

Mark, consumption of Messenger Kids leads to the production of signification by their fragile innocence.

Unless systems by which human meaning, priorities, and values are produced can be noticed, they cannot be thought about, analyzed, or acted upon. I am sure you “get this” Mark, given all the flack Facebook received regarding its role in Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. Messing with the minds of adult citizens is one thing. Messing with the minds of defenseless little children is quite another.

I know. I know what you might be thinking, “But it’s parents’ choice to use Messenger Kids in the first place.” While true in theory of how parental decisions ideally operate, you know, and I know that you know, that the relentless, intentional marketing of how cool we all are when we use our devices and check our Facebook “likes” makes us all pretty vulnerable to your slick mass media carnival barker tactics. Who doesn’t want to join in the fun? Who wants to be left out? We all want to belong to our culture—whether we directly create it or not.

Your decision to launch Messenger Kids, Mark reminds me of the time I consulted with a Seattle suburban school-district sometime in the mid 90’s. I forget exactly when, but what I do remember is that I was hired to support the high school staff in using computers wisely for English and Social Studies in grades 9-12. I introduced concepts of how the teacher is the most important factor in the students’ learning and that we would be looking at ways to keep the student-teacher relationship front and center at all times. I was interrupted immediately by a teacher who informed me, “That’s not what Bill Gates told us when he was here a week ago.” What? Seems Mr. Gates who donated the computers to the school had a different way of approaching technology in the schools. Yet, with his own kids, he did put life first before any screen machine.

Melinda Gates recently admitted that children’s obsessive screen use had “unexpected, unintended consequences.” Maybe she was sincere about that. But where was she in 1999 when I, along with the Washington Association of the Education of Young Children, trained 500 early childhood educators on how overuse of screens negatively affects young children’s brain development? We produced an educational video for this training. Mona Locke, the wife of then Washington governor Gary Locke, was the narrator on this video. Melinda Gates attended some of the state events that launched the video project. So she must have had some inkling back then about the sea of troubles for parents and children she and her husband had helped to start.

So Mark, I encourage you to re-think Messenger Kids, if for no other reason than you don’t want to look like a fool 20 years from now. You will have no future regrets if you align today with the science of optimal early childhood development.

And really what is your end game here? Do you want the world’s children growing up obese, illiterate, adrift without personal agency, increasingly reliant on their devices to “live?”

I am not sure whether or not you are a Trans-humanist. If you are, you may as well come right out and admit it. Your agenda, like some others’ may be to move us all, especially the children, to increasing device use. So then the human-machine merger will increasingly become normalized as well. The trans-humanist agenda won’t seem as strange. In fact, it will seem like a natural progression, from human flesh to human consciousness within a machine. Along with the books of the experts who signed the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter, I highly recommend that you read, To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell, if you haven’t already.

So in conclusion, I give you three very good reasons to discontinue Messenger Kids immediately:

  • In the best interests of children (and their parents and our society—present and future).
  • So you won’t look like a fool 20 years from now.
  • To make a clear statement you are against trans-humanism.

Be a good neighbor to us all, Mark. Discontinue Messenger Kids—and millions will have your back.

Gloria DeGaetano is the Founder and Director of the Parent Coaching Institute  and Parent Coach International, and author of Parenting Well In a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Human

A version of the above article previously appeared at Linkedin

Problems of Materialism and Culture, Raymond Williams, Verso Publishers, 1980, p. 32.