Facebook’s Terms of Service prohibit anyone under the age of 13 from signing up for an account. Kids do it anyway. It’s easy enough. When they get to the box that asks for their birth year, they lie. Facebook doesn’t have anyway to verify the response, so there’s nothing to it.
Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention this week, professor of social psychology Sonia Livingstone stated that 34% of UK 9 to 12-year-olds have a Facebook profile. She says it’s likely that there are even kids under the age of 9 logging on the social media site.
Facebook is a powerful draw for young teens who want to emulate their older siblings or kids who simply want to play the well-publicized games on the site. In many cases, parents even help younger children set up an account as a way of keeping in touch with family members.
In a different study, 80% of UK teens said they’re “actively helping their parents and grandparents get on a social site such as Facebook” so they can use it as means of communicating with older relatives on a regular basis. As a parent, I know it’s nearly impossible to get the kids on the phone with grandmom, but posting and sharing a photo to Facebook is a no-brainer.
Facebook says they’re not much they can do about it. The saving grace is that, as internet sites go, the public side of Facebook is PG rated. I rarely come across foul language or inappropriate pictures. I’m sure they’re there but I wouldn’t be worried about my young teen viewing the site.
What does worry me is that if a child says she’s over 18, her profile shows up in the public search. Add up a picture of her in her school sweatshirt, Facebook’s location features, a comment about lunch at a local restaurant and it wouldn’t be hard to find her in the real world. In most cases, no one is going to go looking, but if even one child is harmed as a result of her Facebook profile, that’s one too many. Then there’s online bullying (going both ways) and the PG rated social media site suddenly feels like a scary place.
Do you watch the TV show Castle? (Weird segue, I know.) Last week, the TV detective learned that his college-aged daughter had an online Vlog. Against his better judgement, he watched her latest entry and was appalled by the amount of personal detail. Nothing racy, just girl stuff about dating and boys. He came down hard on her, warning her about internet stranger danger. She responded by saying, I’m smart, I’m careful and I’m at an age where I’m supposed to experiment.
My point is, kids are going to be kids. They’re going to go where they want to go and age verification screens won’t stop them. Should Facebook require a credit card or social security number as proof of age? No. They’re doing all they can. After that, it’s up to the parents to know what their kids are doing on the computer or their iPhone.
What do you think? Is Facebook responsible for kids who lie about their age? Would you be willing to verify your age with documentation in order to make the internet safer for kids?
I didn’t think so.