Documents Reveal Facebook Targeted Children As Young As 6 For Consumer Base

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Internal documents show that Facebook has actively hired employees to create products targeting children as young as 6 in order to expand its user base.

“Our company is investing heavily in youth and has created a business-to-business virtual team to provide young people with safer and more private experiences that improve their well-being and that of their homes,” wrote a blogger, including the name was redacted before NBC News could review the document. “For many of our products, we have historically not designed for those under the age of 13. “

In the internal blog post Posted on April 9, the author wrote that the company plans to hire more positions as it expands its product line to children under 13. The diagrams illustrate the proposed new target age groups, ranging from 6 to 9 year old children and 10 to 12 year old tweens, as well as the existing targets of 13 to 15 year old young adolescents, late teens. adolescence from 16 to 17 years old and adults.

“These five age groups can be used to define the education, transparency, controls and defaults that will meet the needs of young users,” the Facebook employee wrote.

Critics of the company say the documents are part of a long-standing model of Facebook trying to get young users in as early as possible.

“Facebook and Instagram have repeatedly shown that they simply cannot be trusted when it comes to the well-being of children and adolescents,” said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, an organization nonprofit that studies the relationship between children and the digital world. “They need to focus on cleaning up their existing rigs instead of trying to hook more kids to their increasingly young addicting rigs.”

Facebook responded to a request for comment by referring to a blog post it wrote in response to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of its efforts to attract younger audiences. “Companies that operate in a highly competitive space – including the Wall Street Journal – strive to appeal to the younger generations. Considering our competitors are doing the same, it would actually be interesting if Facebook didn’t do this job, ”the post said.

The documents were included in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in drafted form by legal counsel to Frances Haugen, who worked as a Facebook product manager until May and came forward in as a whistleblower. The digital versions of the disclosures – with some names and other personal information redacted – were obtained by a consortium of news agencies, including NBC News. Most of the documents are digital photographs of company material on computer screens.

The post was shared on Facebook’s internal bulletin board. “We have a few researchers across the company launching this virtual team and we are hiring more as this work unfolds,” the author wrote, explaining that the team plans to grow by hiring people with experience in “global youth research (especially children, tweens and their guardians). The post lists jobs for categories such as Messenger Kids / Youth Platform and Instagram Child Safety and shared the name of the hiring manager for each role, which has been drafted Messenger Kids is a video calling and messaging application created by Facebook that is currently available for children.

A diagram from an April 9 internal Facebook post titled “The Internet Wasn’t Designed For Young People, But We’re About To Change That” describes how products are offered to different age groups and a vision future offers. (Obtained by NBC News)

The position includes a diagram titled “Where we’ve been and where we’re going …” explaining how the company plans to expand to audiences below its current threshold of 13. The document cites current Federal Trade Commission regulations regarding online services intended to children under 13 years old. old, called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, or COPPA.

In a diagram describing how the company is currently working with young users, a note explains why the company stopped at age 13. “The COPPA line is simple: we treat 13+ people like other users and ask younger people not to use our products. The adjacent diagram is titled “And in the future” and the “off” line that represents current restrictions is removed and replaced with user levels, including “Tweens 10-12” and “Kids 6-9”. The slide does not explain how the company would navigate the current COPPA restrictions in the future.

Illustrations from an internal Facebook post on April 9 titled “The Internet Wasn't Designed With Young People In Thinking, But We're About To Change That;  show the five different age groups the company was evaluating to define the education, transparency, controls and defaults that will meet the needs of young users. ”  ;  (Obtained by NBC News)

Illustrations from an internal Facebook post on April 9 titled “The Internet Wasn’t Designed For Young People, But We’re About To Change That” show the five different age groups the company was evaluating for. “Define education, transparency, controls and defaults that will meet the needs of young users.” (Obtained by NBC News)

In a slide titled “Youth Design Requires Special Attention to Cognitive and Social Maturity,” cartoon characters are used to depict different age groups, from 6 to 9 year olds.

The message arrived just a week before a coalition of 35 organizations and 64 individual experts, coordinated by Fairplay, formerly known as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based nonprofit, raised concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem and commercial pressure in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“These documents make it clear that instead of working to make its existing platforms less harmful to teens, Facebook’s priority was to trap young children and build a lifelong user pipeline of Facebook products,” he said. Fairplay executive director Josh Golin told NBC News. “Despite Facebook’s claims that its motivation for Instagram for Kids is to create a safer experience for tweens, it’s clear that the real reason is that Facebook is obsessed with children to spur their growth. Facebook products are not safe for young children, and a company that consistently puts profits above the well-being of young people does not have a platform for building a business for children.

In September, the boss of Instagram, Adam Mosseri announced that the company will halt development a version of the kids photo sharing app. “I still firmly believe that it is a good thing to build a version of Instagram designed to be safe for tweens, but we want to take the time to talk to parents, researchers and safety experts and come to a greater consensus on how to move forward, ”he told Craig Melvin in the NBC’s “TODAY” show.

Facebook spokesperson Nkechi Nneji said that “while we are still recruiting these positions, they will largely focus on the new features we are creating for teens (13-17 years old) and parents.


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