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Facebook Messenger Kids App Is Expanding

June 22, 2018, 7:21 PM UTC

Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is heading outside the U.S. to Canada and Peru.

As part of the expansion, the social networking giant said Friday that it would also debut Spanish and French language versions of the children’s messaging app that are now available in all three countries where the service is available.

Facebook (FB) introduced Messenger Kids in December, pitching it as a safer way for children under 13 to chat with friends while sending them silly GIFs, emoji, and other goofy digital imagery. Unlike the core Facebook social networking service or other messaging apps, Facebook said that Messenger Kids does not display any online ads or allow kids to buy things within the app.

However, Facebook’s decision to release a child-friendly version of its messenger app comes amid harsh criticism by researchers, activists, and shareholders about the potential detrimental effects of compulsive technology use by children. In January, a group of child health experts wrote a public letter urging Facebook to abandon Messenger Kids, because “younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts.”

Facebook countered that it had consulted with online safety experts when developing Messenger Kids and that the service has a variety of online access tools and features that parents can use to monitor their children’s’ online habits. One new parental control feature Facebook highlighted on Friday was the option for two parents to now have access to Messenger Kids accounts instead of only one.

Facebook also doubled down on its pledge that Messenger Kids can be a safe way for children to message each other, and said Friday that it created the app “with elements that teach kids how to better understand and express their emotions in creative ways, encourage and promote healthy social behaviors, and deepen positive connections between kids and their close friends and families.”

Some of the new child safety features Facebook said would debut at a later date include an online pledge that kids must sign before using the service. The online pledge says that in order for users to “to make sure everyone has a good time on Messenger Kids,” they must agree to “be kind,” “be respectful,” “be safe,” and “have fun.”

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It’s unclear whether merely agreeing to “be kind” will prevent online bullying or other malicious acts that have caused parents to worry in recent years as more children use social networking services.