The majority of child health experts who are publicly supporting Facebook's Messenger Kids app after vetting it have financial ties to the social media giant, Wired reported earlier this week following an investigation into the matter. Out of thirteen members of the company's advisory board that inspected the app and participated in its development, seven were proven to have been funded by Facebook in the past. The Family Online Safety Institute which had two of its members on the Messenger Kids' board received backing from Facebook, as did Connect Safely, Sesame Workshop, Telefono Azzurro, MediaSmarts, and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Sesame Workshop's board member Lewis Bernstein went on to work at Facebook as a consultant to the company's unit developing content for teens, the investigation revealed.
Blue Star Families and National PTA who "collaborated" with Facebook during the app's development both previously received financial backing from the company, whereas a number of the members of the committee that vetted Messenger Kids publicly defended the service via op-eds published by San Jose Mercury News and The Hill in recent weeks. Facebook Head of Global Safety Policy Antigone Davis told Wired the firm made no attempts to hide the fact some of its Messenger Kids board members were financed by the company, adding that many of them also sit on the firm's safety advisory board since its establishment in 2009. While Facebook occasionally provides funding meant to cover "programmatic or logistic expenses," it pays its consultants so as to not place a financial burden on them just because they want to contribute to the company's policies with their expertise and experience, Ms. Davis suggested.
The Menlo Park, California-based social media giant still failed to consult with some of the largest organizations in the field while developing Messenger Kids, with two of them launching a campaign against the app shortly after its debut, calling for CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discontinue the service due to the potentially negative effects it could have on pre-teens and their mental health. Messenger Kids is specifically targeted at children aged six to thirteen and was called "irresponsible" by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood even before becoming available on Android smartphones and tablets. Facebook has been interested in creating an app for pre-teens for years now, with its earliest public mention of the topic being recorded in 2011 when Mr. Zuckerberg said he's looking to "fight" the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in the future. The legislation in question went into effect in 2000 and requires parental consent for collecting data on people under thirteen.