Facebook is restructuring its “youth team” with a greater focus on Messenger Kids, its instant-messaging app for under-13s, reports say.
The team, a small group within the company responsible for getting children to use the social network, had previously been working on an experimental new feature called LOL, described by industry news site TechCrunch as a “cringey teen meme hub”.
With categories such as animals, fails and memes, the app – which was being tested among a small number of US high schoolers – was an attempt to create a feed of short video content on Facebook, similar to the popular meme accounts that flourish on Instagram.
After the restructure, the LOL app will be shut down, and its staff moved over to work on Messenger Kids, according to a report in Recode. “The youth team has restructured in order to match top business priorities, including increasing our investment in Messenger Kids,” the company said in a statement.
Messenger Kids is an app that allows children under 13 limited access to Facebook’s messenger chat service. Each account is controlled by a parental Facebook account, which can add friends and delete messages, while the child’s version of the app can only send and receive messages from pre-approved contacts.
The goal is to “make parents the gatekeepers”, Facebook said when it launched the app in late 2017. But it almost immediately sparked controversy, with more than 100 child-health advocates in the US writing a letter to Mark Zuckerberg calling for the app to be pulled because of the dangers of social media for children. “Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the open letter said.
Jeremy Hunt, then the UK’s health secretary, also weighed in, calling on Facebook to “stay away from my kids”. He wrote: “Facebook told me they would come back with ideas to prevent underage use of their product, but instead they are actively targeting younger children.”
Instead, Facebook has been focusing more and more on Messenger Kids, which has the benefit to the company of providing an easy on-road for 13-year-olds to transition to using the full version of Facebook when they come of age.
The company has increasingly struggled to get young people on to the Facebook app, with Instagram, its second social network, proving a much more popular choice among schoolchildren and college students.
As a result, Facebook is also moving ahead with plans to integrate the main app and Instagram behind the scenes. The most recent push involves allowing businesses to reply to Instagram messages from their Facebook account. That feature appears to be the first step of a plan to merge the messaging systems of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, first revealed in January.
TheGuardian | PUKmedia