Most of the experts who vetted Messenger Kids -- Facebook’s messaging platform geared specifically toward children under 13 -- received funding from the social media giant.
When the app was first launched back in December, Facebook emphasized that it had worked closely with leading experts in the field of child development in order to protect its youngest users.
However, many of the organizations and experts that vouched for the app’s safety received funding from Facebook, WIRED reports.
"At least seven members of Facebook's 13-person advisory board have some kind of financial tie to the company," the report said.
Reviewers were given previous donations
At the time of the app’s release, the company asserted that Messenger Kids would be filling “a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.”
Facebook said the app was created with the help of input from more than a dozen experts, associations like National PTA and Blue Star Families, and conversations with thousands of parents.
But most of the experts who helped “co-develop” the controversial app have previously received funding from Facebook, sparking even more concern over whether the app is as safe for kids as Facebook claims.
The National PTA said Facebook donated money for the first time in 2017, which it used to fund a survey and roundtables. Facebook also donated “small amounts” to Blue Star Families, as well as several other organizations with representatives on the board that favorably evaluated the app.
Advocates call for app to shut down
Since it was first rolled out in December 2017, the app has faced widespread criticism from many parents and child advocates. In an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, nearly 100 child health experts called for the app to be shut down.
"We are writing to urge you to discontinue Messenger Kids, Facebook's first social media app designed specifically for children under the age of 13," the letter from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood read.
Encouraging children as young as six to join social media is likely to create problems, not fill a need, the experts argued.
In addition to the developmental issues that have been linked to screen time and social media use by young children, the experts argue that those under the age of 13 “aren’t old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.”
The app is still available and has been rolled out to even more users. Starting today, Android users can download Messenger Kids.