Messenger Kids

Facebook's Messenger Kids app displayed on an iPhone. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other groups have asked for an investigation into whether Facebook’s Messenger Kids violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

In the aftermath of damning testimony that its platforms harm children, Facebook will be introducing several new features, including prompting teens to take a break using its photo sharing app Instagram, and “nudging” teens if they are repeatedly looking at the same content that’s not conducive to their well-being.

Facebook is also planning to introduce new controls on an optional basis so that parents or guardians of teens can supervise what their charges are doing online. These initiatives come after Facebook announced late last month that it was pausing work on its Instagram for Kids project. But critics say the plan lacks details and they are skeptical that the new features would be effective.

The new controls were outlined by Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs, who made the rounds on various news shows.

“We are constantly iterating in order to improve our products,” Clegg told Dana Bash on CNN Sunday. “We cannot, with a wave of the wand, make everyone’s life perfect. What we can do is improve our products, so that our products are as safe and as enjoyable to use.”

Clegg said that Facebook has invested $13 billion over the past few years in making sure to keep the platform safe, and that the company has 40,000 people working on these issues. And while Clegg said that Facebook has done its best to keep harmful content out of its platforms, he says he was open for more regulation and oversight.

He noted that the systems Facebook has in place should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation, so that “people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens.”

Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a watchdog for the children and media marketing industry, said that he doesn’t think introducing controls to help parents supervise teens would be effective, since many teens set up secret accounts anyway. He was also dubious about how effective nudging teens to take a break or move away from harmful content would be. He noted Facebook needs to show exactly how it would implement it, and also offer research that shows these tools are effective.

“There is tremendous reason to be skeptical,” he said. He added that regulators need to restrict what Facebook does with its algorithms.

He said he also believes that Facebook should cancel its Instagram project for kids.