Why Facebook Made a Messenger for Kids

Facebook just dropped Messenger Kids.

Messenger Kids is a parental-control version of everyone’s favorite Facebook Messenger — but just for kids under the age of 13. Facebook’s age limit has always been a minimum of 13 and that’s been the social media standard across the board forever. So it’s a major statement that they are going into a specific locked-down version that’s for the under-13 set. Now we won’t assume that kids under 13 already haven’t created their own illicit Facebook (or Snapchat or Instagram) profile, but let’s pretend that there’s maybe a good audience for this new kiddie Messenger for the 5–9 year old set.

Just for iOS stuff for now, Facebook’s Messenger Kids has a slimmer feature set allowing a pre-defined list of contacts set by the parental units, like Grandma, who can chat from her standard Facebook Messenger app. Handily for kids of all ages, it comes built in with kid versions of stickers, AR masks, and curated GIFs. Playtime!

Kids can send messages and photos but can’t purchase anything in-app — which is a key note. Because it’s clear that there is limited to no monetization opportunity here (since under 13 is also regulated by advertising rules too). So why did Facebook make this if they can’t make any money from in-app purchases or ads?

The angel on the shoulder says that they built this to allow the youngsters a safe environment to do what they see everyone else doing in a permission-based walled garden because they are altruists. In theory, this could prevent some of the darker sides of anonymous social media from getting to little ones. I agree this is huge benefit, and while it may not completely remove elements like inter-friend bullying, it could definitely reduce other predator behavior — ‘safer’ is the word Facebook uses. These kids are likely already on Facebook so now parents have a kid-friendly alternative. Kinda like YouTube tried with YouTube Kids.

The devil on the shoulder is that this simply a Trojan-horse attempt for Facebook to hook ’em young and gather data on the under-13 audience, which by the way is an AI-enabled platform. The bots are watching and listening and learning. What will your kids share? Think about what toys they want for Christmas or what trends are new or how they love that new show — which Facebook can learn and resurface to advertisers, like Disney and Hasbro, advertising to parents depending on the ‘tug factor.’ The ‘tug factor’ is a child-influenced purchase decision by a parent because of something the child has asked for based on peer influence or advertising driven by a brand.

At Disney or Hasbro when I was there, I would have loved to know how TV advertising and other media elements were influencing and entering kid conversations in order to determine how to tweak campaigns to influence the parents’ purchase decisions(and reach them on regular Facebook, Instagram, whatever).

So devil or angel, do you think this will be useful to parents? Or will kids think it’s lame since it says ‘Kids’ and has the ever-watching eye over the shoulder? Do you think either one outweighs the Facebook data benefit to their business model as they look for more ways to inform their ad model, now into a previously untouchable space?

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