Based on a new document released by whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook (now known as Meta following a fresh rebrand) appears to have been planning to recruit six year olds to various apps within its portfolio. The first page within the document is a photograph of a job ad for various child research roles under a “youth initiative” umbrella. Though the ad says the initiative “prioritizes the best interest” of children and “recognizes the responsibilities it brings,” the document quickly jumps to photos of an internal memo detailing Facebook’s plan to create features and settings that are tailored to children as young as six. The memo does not state what these features or settings would look like, but the company has previously faced a backlash for targeting youths through a proposed Instagram for Kids.
Facebook admits in its memo that it hasn’t historically prioritized young children due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is intended to protect those under the age of 13. While COPPA doesn’t prohibit websites and mobile apps from collecting data on children as frequently thought, it does mandate that such operators provide parents with ample opportunity to restrict what data is collected. It also requires operators to limit the amount of time it keeps children’s information and to prioritize data integrity. Given these tough (read: perfectly reasonable, even for adult users) guidelines, Facebook hasn’t bothered to create online experiences for kids beyond its Messenger Kids app.
However, given how many young users are ditching Facebook, the company apparently decided to begin targeting kids who would have only just begun learning how to read. The memo released by Haugen implies that Facebook had begun dividing focus markets into age groups, including ages six through nine and 10 through 12.
“Our company is making a major investment in youth and has spun up a cross-company virtual team to make safer, more private experiences for youth that improve their and their households’ well-being,” the job posting from the memo reads. It’s worth noting that beyond the general risks social media poses to mental health, the Facebook-owned Instagram app has recently been found to uniquely harm young people’s self-image. This begs the question: Can a social media experience aimed at children in early stages of development really benefit their well-being?
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