"After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the U.S., we found that there's a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want", said Facebook Product Management Director, Loren Cheng.
Every child account on Messenger Kids must be set up by a parent.
The service essentially takes the main Instagram app's messaging features and packs them into a separate experience, which will seamlessly communicate with the main, feed-oriented app.
Davis named some reasons Facebook made a decision to create Messenger Kids and why they chose to create it right now.
"It's a very lucrative market; companies want to capture these people, these children, so they can keep them throughout their lives", said Kathryn Montgomery, a communications professor at American University and one of the main advocates who helped get COPPA passed.
Messenger Kids does little else other than to allow text chat with approved contacts, although it does offer video and group chat. To add people to your child's approved contact list, you can access the Messenger Kids parental controls panel within your main Facebook app by clicking on "More" at the bottom right corner in your main Facebook app, and then by clicking on "Messenger Kids" in the explore section. "It's just like setting up a play date", Davis said. "We appreciate that for now, the product is ad-free and appears created to put parents in control. Sometimes after 5 or 10 minutes it's really hard to have a sustained conversation with a 7-year-old", but kids can joke around with Grampa using the selfie filters when they run out of run-on stories to tell them. Messenger Kids will also not feature any advertisements. Facebook actually manually selected a set of GIFs that kids can use rather than relying on a third-party startup to tag things well enough.
Facebook's age restriction meant that it was never a place for kids. A dedicated support team will work 24/7 to address any flagged issues.
The new app's structure feels a lot like Snapchat: When users open it, the camera pane will open, emphasising the app's focus on creating new material (photos and videos) to share. The exception is that if kids report a piece of objectionable content, their parents will be notified but still not shown the content in their own app.
In the past few years, WhatsApp has remained a relatively unchanged, bare-bones messaging app, while Messenger has become much more, transforming into a platform of its own: Bots, payment options, phone calls, and even games have now found a home in Messenger.
Messenger Kids gives parents more control. They'll still have to build a traditional Facebook account from scratch when they're ready.