When’s the last time you got a friend request from someone under 13?
For me, it was less than a week ago. And she was only 8.
How can this be? An 8 year old girl that I used to babysit suddenly had access to my Facebook account. Being a college student, statuses and pictures are not filtered to the likes of children that young–my Facebook friends are primarily college aged and older, and the content reflects that. Although it’s easy to deny a friend request from a child, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult as more kids join Facebook and gradually shift the audience.
Facebook has been looking into a way for children under 13 to use Facebook, which has been difficult due to Federal restrictions. Law requires that companies obtain parental consent before collecting information about children under 13. Everything about Facebook breaks that law–from statuses to pictures, that content is considered “information”, and that could get Facebook in a lot of trouble. So how do they skirt around it? Well, they simply give children the option to link their account to a parent’s. Although it hasn’t been followed through with quite yet, Facebook has certainly been experimenting with it.
Although it’s alarming at first, it’s not all that big of a change. Children under 13 are already using Facebook by lying about their age with the aid of family and friends. Often times parents allow their children to set up Facebook accounts because “everyone’s doing it”–and that’s not necessarily false. More than 7.5 million children under 13 had Facebook accounts last year.
Facebook has made it no secret that they are well aware of the dangers of children having access to their website prematurely. For one, there are digital footprints created long before children even understand what that means. Additionally, ads push spending on games and other services, and they only get more pronounced with time. There’s also the concern of cyber bullying, which is reminiscent of similar issues with past technologies like AIM and Myspace. Finally, one of the most concerning issues deals with the fear of inappropriate content being easily accessible.
If the change were to be made, Facebook has made it clear that they would assure these accounts would be much safer than adult and teen accounts. Their privacy would be automatically set to “Friends Only”, which is a step better than the preset “Friends of Friends” that teen accounts (13-17) are given. In addition, parents would ultimately have the say in who their children accept as “Friends”; and therefore, who they interact with online. This could help stop cyber bullying, and the overall audience they interact with online. Lastly, Facebook has thrown out the idea of having a “no ad” policy for under 13 accounts, therefore eliminating the issue of targeting young audiences too soon (whether or not that would actually be followed through with is certainly questionable).
So is it all that bad? It’s hard to tell quite yet–who knows, it may even decrease the amount of privacy and bullying issues due to parent’s inclination to sign their kids up as their real age, not a fake one. But one things is for sure, Facebook has come a long way since its college-only days.