Setting up the app requires an adult with a Facebook account, who can set up the child's profile and the initial list of friends and family members the child will be allowed to connect with on Messenger. Then the device can be handed over to the child so they can start chatting with the family and friends you approve.
Facebook said the app will not feature in-app purchases or ads nor will the child's information be used for ads.
Facebook has been careful to comply with the law, said Kathryn Montgomery, a communications professor at American University and one of the main advocates who helped get COPPA passed. From there, parents will be able to add and remove contacts to a child's account.
But instead of forbidding your kids from using ubiquitous social networking services like Facebook or Facebook Messenger, you could try setting up a limited account for them. She first heard of Facebook's interest in children 5 or 6 years ago and urged it not to create a full social network for children.
"We understand that this is extraordinarily frightening", explained Facebook Head of Global Safety Antigone Davis. It's just like regular Messenger, but an age-appropriate version. As is the case with the regular Facebook app, the camera in Messenger Kids is loaded with stickers and effects - all of which have been made specifically for the child-friendly app and aren't available in Facebook's other services. Kids can only chat with people who are Facebook friends with their parents, meaning the parent must be friends with the other parents.
Facebook targets 6- to 12-year-old demographic with new Messenger app
"New aspects of the product will emerge", said Montgomery, in her role as a senior consultant for the Center for Digital Democracy. It wants kids on board as early as possible, and it knows that parents are eager to keep in touch with their kids through a safe environment that they can control. Davis said that if a parent decides to delete a child's account, Facebook will also delete any data from its own servers.
Like any business, Facebook's goals shouldn't be viewed as entirely altruistic, even if Messenger Kids is free to download and use. It will be soon available for Android and Amazon Kindle devices. The company has no plans to release a similar kids-only platform for its other main social network, Instagram.
The app, called Messenger Kids, allows children to send messages and photos and video chat with specific contacts that have been approved by their parents. There are also plenty of gifs, masks and emojis kids can pepper into conversations. That means when a child reports a conversation that they find offensive or block an individual user in the app (or vice versa), the parent is notified on Facebook.
"I think at some point, we need to be realistic that social media isn't going away", Fountas said. "The question becomes: Do we simply ban them and fight a losing fight?"