The current Facebook rules require that users be at least 13 years old in order to join and set up a Facebook profile. However, Facebook may soon open the floodgates and allow younger children to join the social network as well.
A report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Facebook is actively working on policies and controls aimed at allowing younger Facebook users. The article claims, “Mechanisms being tested include connecting children's accounts to their parents' and controls that would allow parents to decide whom their kids can "friend" and what applications they can use.”
The minimum age requirement on Facebook is more or less a joke anyway. Simply lying about your birthdate easily circumvents the policy, and Facebook does little (if anything) to enforce it. The arbitrary age cut-off seems to exist solely as some sort of legal protection for Facebook so it doesn’t have to address requirements stipulated in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
The reality is that there are tons of kids under 13 on Facebook already. Many may have gamed the system on their own without the knowledge or consent of oblivious parents. However, in many cases children’s Facebook accounts are condoned, monitored, and even managed by parents who understand the risks, but feel the Facebook age restriction is silly.
There are many users who equate being online with being on Facebook--as if Facebook is synonymous with the Internet itself. Often, these are older users who may have purchased a PC and gone online for the sole purpose of joining Facebook to stay connected with kids and grandkids across the country or around the world.
While more kids should take the time to compose handwritten letters, draw pictures on actual paper, and mail them in stamped envelopes using the old-fashioned postal system to their grandparents, those quaint days are all but dead. The way grandkids communicate and share with grandparents is online--and generally that means Facebook. As long as there are mechanisms in place to protect chidlren from online predators, and safeguard privacy, Facebook is an ideal platform for grandparents and grandchildren to keep in touch.
Based on the information from the Wall Street Journal, it seems that Facebook is developing controls that do essentially the same thing conscientious parents are already doing—monitoring the “friends” of children’s accounts, managing the privacy controls of children’s Facebook profiles, and limiting the applications children are allowed to use. In a nutshell, the changes by Facebook would allow parents to do what they’re already doing the hard way, and let kids use the social network without lying about their age.
Is there a shady side to having kids on Facebook? Possibly. The seedy underside of the Internet exists, though, across the entire Internet and it doesn’t discriminate based on age. If Facebook is too risky for a 12 year old, then frankly older teens shouldn’t be allowed to use it either. If being on the Internet itself is a serious concern, parents shouldn’t allow their kids online at all.
This story, "Facebook Ready to (Officially) Allow Children Under 13" was originally published by BrandPost.