New Facebook app puts primary pupils at risk, charity says

27th February 2018 at 00:05
Children's charity Barnardo's claims that Facebook's Messenger Kids app could expose pupils to grooming, sexting and online bullying

A new Facebook app for primary children may expose them to grooming, sexting and online bullying, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s.

The charity commissioned a YouGov survey of 997 parents, asking for their views about Facebook’s new Messengers Kids app, aimed at children under the age of 13.

Ninety per cent of parents said that they were concerned about their children using the new app, which is currently being trialled in the US.

More than three fifths – 61 per cent – said they were worried that strangers would be able to pose as their children’s friends on the app.

And more than half – 51 per cent – said that they were worried that children could use the app to share inappropriate or explicit images.

Similar numbers – 52 per cent – expressed concern that Messenger Kids would not have strong enough security to protect their children.

And 57 per cent of parents also worried that their children might be bullied while using the app.

'A place of danger'

Messenger Kids allows children as young as six to communicate either in groups or one-to-one, using text messages, video calls and photos.

In the US, where it is currently being trialled, almost 100 child health experts wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, drawing attention to its potential risks, and asking for it to be withdrawn.

They suggested that the app could also undermine healthy development in primary-aged pupils by increasing the amount of time they spend online.

Only 6 per cent of parents surveyed by Barnardo’s said that they had no specific concerns about the app. By contrast, 51 per cent said that they would not let their children use it.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “While the internet provides amazing opoortunities, it can also be a place of danger, and too many children are groomed and abused online.

“We are particularly concerned that actively encouraging young children to form virtual friendships makes them more susceptible to grooming and exploitation. Our specialist services see first-hand the harm caused to children who have been groomed online and sexually abused.”

'Paramount importance'

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, said that Messenger Kids only allows children to chat with people their parents have approved.

“The safety of children and families using the Messenger Kids app is of paramount importance to us, and we’re taking extra steps to make sure kids are safe,” she said.

“We’ve built systems that can detect things like nudity, violence, and child-exploitative imagery to help limit that content from being shared on Messenger Kids.

“We’ve received feedback that parents using the app in the US feel that it’s a safer alternative to let their kids chat with family and friends when they can’t be together in person.”

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