In an open letter, the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and MomsRising urged Zuckerberg to utilize his "enormous reach and influence to promote children's wellbeing."
"Please do not target kids. Research shows that excessive social media use is already harming adolescents and teens. Younger children are even less equipped to deal with the interpersonal challenges and addictive power of social media. Kids need time and space to experience the physical world and develop healthy face-to-face relationships," the letter states.
According to the plea, those supporting the petition include educators, health professionals, parents and caregivers "who see the impacts of technology and social media on children every day" and are "distressed about the impacts of technology and social media on the wellbeing of children and families."
The Messenger Kids app, launched in December, 2017, includes strict parental controls that allow parents to approve contacts and implement safety filters. According to Facebook, the app was developed with the assistance of online safety experts and follows guidelines set by the US Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act. However, child health advocates remain skeptical about the app and the company behind it, particularly in light of recent massive data breaches and invasive information vacuuming.
"The harm is real," Micah Resnick, a New York pediatrician who signed the petition, told the Guardian. "The race to keep children's attention trains them to replace their self-worth with likes, encourages comparison with others, and creates the constant illusion of missing out."
"Social media is already damaging the emotional/social growth of children. Do not lower the age to younger children, who are already more impressionable, and do not have the cognitive maturity to differentiate social messages," Jamie Greene, a psychologist based in Mount Kisco, New York, noted.
In a recent statement, Facebook said, "Messenger Kids was built from the ground up with input from families, safety experts and child development advocates. It's why today thousands of families in the US use the app to stay in touch in a safe environment, where parents have complete control of their child's contacts and there are no ads or in-app purchases."
"We're going to keep working to make this app better for families, and we appreciate their feedback," the statement added.