The social network confirmed that it is shuttering several projects that its youth team of 100-plus employees was working on—including the LOL app it was testing with some 100 high-school students in private beta, which delivered a feed of memes in the form of videos and GIFs—and shifting the team’s focus to Messenger Kids.
High School Networks for Messenger is one of the other Facebook youth team projects that is being scrapped. It was introduced last April as a way for high-school students on Messenger to connect with fellow students at their schools or in their classes.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “The youth team has restructured in order to match top business priorities, including increasing our investment in Messenger Kids.”
Messenger Kids debuted in December 2017, billed as a way for kids under 13 to gain access to basic Messenger features including one-on-one or group chats and video chats and sharing photos and videos.
Parents must set up accounts for their kids, and they retain full control over those accounts via a Messenger Kids controls panel that they access via their main Facebook app.
The app came under fire almost immediately, with a group of youth-focused organizations sending a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in late January 2018, urging him to discontinue Messenger Kids due to the harmful effects of social media on teens and younger kids.
The letter was signed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Badass Teachers Association, Centre for Child Honouring, Common Sense Media, Corporate Accountability, Defending the Early Years, Epic Privacy, Media Education Foundation, MomsRising, New Dream, New Moon Girls, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Parents Television Council and Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.).
Facebook made several changes to Messenger Kids to help quell those concerns, including the addition of a sleep mode last April, enabling parents to designate off times when the app is inaccessible to their kids; last June’s rollout of the Messenger Kids Pledge to encourage kids to be kind, be respectful, be safe and have fun; and the addition of passphrases last August, enabling kids to share randomly generated four-word codes to request friends as contacts on the app, with parental approval required.
Other attempts by Facebook over the past couple of years to keep teens engaged with its platform included stand-alone apps such as Poke, Slingshot, Lifestage and, most recently, Lasso—the first three have since been shuttered—as well as its acquisition of tbh in October 2017 (the tbh app was shuttered last July).