Following news that Facebook has preyed upon children, advocates renew call to pull the plug on Messenger Kids

Date of Release: 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Contact: 
David Monahan, CCFC: david@commercialfreechildhood.org; (617) 896-9397
Lisa Cohen, Common Sense: lcohen@commonsense.org; (310) 395-2544

Following news that Facebook has preyed upon children, advocates renew call to pull the plug on Messenger Kids

A year ago, over 100 health advocates urged Facebook not to lure young kids to social media. Now, internal documents show Facebook fraudulently targets kids to boost profits.

BOSTON, MA — January 29, 2019 — On the heels of explosive revelations that Facebook intentionally defrauded children out of millions of dollars, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and 14 other advocacy groups sent a letter today asking Mark Zuckerberg to immediately shut down Facebook Messenger Kids, the first social media platform for young children.

One year ago CCFC sent Mark Zuckerberg a letter signed by more than 100 public health advocates, urging Facebook to discontinue Messenger Kids and detailing the ways the app would undermine children’s healthy development. Now the Center for Investigative Reporting has released internal documents showing Facebook’s exploitative business practices regarding children. As early as 2011, Facebook knew that kids were unintentionally spending real money on games, but refused to refund or prevent these purchases because doing so would hurt revenue. Facebook employees referred to kids who spent large amounts of money as “whales,” a casino-industry term for super high rollers. The practice of a child unintentionally making a purchase was deemed “friendly fraud,” and Facebook managers encouraged developers to not take steps to prevent it. 

Today’s letter states: "It’s clear that Facebook is willing to cause actual harm to children and families in its quest for profit. As such, Facebook is unfit to make any platform or product for children, especially one like Messenger Kids, which gives Facebook unfettered access to kids’ relationships, conversations, and private moments with friends and family."

“A company that views children as ‘whales’ to be exploited, and ‘friendly fraud’ as a legitimate source of revenue has no business making products that have the power to shape children’s development and relationships,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin. “Even in the hands of an ethical company, social media for young children would be a terrible idea. But Facebook especially cannot be trusted with a platform that gives the company access to children’s most private moments. It’s past time to pull the plug on Messenger Kids.”

Added James P. Steyer, CEO of Common Sense, “The fact that Facebook knowingly duped kids and families is nothing short of deeply troubling. It seems to demonstrate an intentional and callous disregard for the well-being of kids and families. Moreover it suggests a disturbing and unethical culture at the broader company. As we have said repeatedly, Common Sense has serious concerns about a company like Facebook creating a product directly targeting kids under thirteen.  We are once again calling on Facebook to immediately shut down Messenger Kids.”

Groups signing on to the letter are Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Common Sense, Badass Teachers Association, Inc., Defending the Early Years, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Media Education Foundation, New Dream, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Parents Television Council, Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.), Public Citizen, the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring, Story of Stuff, and TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Childhood Entertainment).

The advocates’ letter can be read at CCFC’s website.