It amazes me just how intuitive kids seem to be using modern technology. At a younger and younger age they seem to just know how to do stuff. My 10-year-old nephew regularly gives his Grandad tutorials on how to use the iPhone, despite not owning a mobile phone of his own.
What is worrying however, is the number of youngsters that are using social media sites. A recent report suggests that 4% of children on Facebook are under six. This is despite Facebook terms and conditions stating that you need to be over 13 to use the site.
Here’s the problem, all you need to set up a Facebook profile is a valid email address, and who doesn’t have one of those? Ok, the rules are that you need to be over thirteen but the only check in place is that you need to enter your date of birth at sign up. This is soooo easy to enter “incorrectly” and even when you do enter a date of birth that shows you are under the required age you only get a message saying that Facebook “Sorry, we are not able to process your registration.” No explanation as to why. Let’s face it, how many people are actually aware of this age limit? Not that many I’ll bet.
What really worries me is the lack of awareness many people have regarding the privacy settings of Facebook (that’s a whole other blog) and how this will filter down through to their kids using Facebook.
In my humble opinion, which will carry no weight with Facebook, the solution is really pretty simple. Here we have a company that is willing to invest $1 billion in a company with no revenue but appears to put little effort in protecting our young people in their online activities. So what can be done about it?
Well first up, tell people WHY the registration cannot be processed. Surely this cannot be beyond the wit of the technical boffins at Facebook.
Secondly, and this might seem a bit controversial, LET under 13’s use Facebook. That’s right, read it again. I firmly believe that under 13’s should be allowed on Facebook, but before you tell me how stupid I am hear me out, because I’ve got a few suggestions.
Firstly, no one likes to be told they can’t do something, even kids (I’ve got an 18 month old and she hates being told no). So by not allowing youngsters to register for Facebook all that is happening is the mystique of the site is increased. The chances are their friends have an account, with or without their parent’s permission.
Secondly, there needs to be some protection put on the site for kids. If someone under 13 wants to register for Facebook then let them, as long as their account can be linked to an adults existing profile. Similar to the way a Facebook page has an “Admin” then why can we not have kids profile with an “admin” to monitor the activity on the page. Parents or guardians could see what their kids were posting, monitor friend requests and messages. It might even be that any posts made required approval prior to them actually being posted. Facebook would have a responsibility to ensure that under 13’s profiles had the maximum privacy settings as standard and maybe even restrict the advertising on these profiles.
By giving adults a way of controlling what’s going on with the page then hopefully this will help reduce any chance of cyber bullying. It’ll give kids a sense of being involved. It’ll help protect them from any potential predators. There’s also the chance that it’ll encourage parents who rarely use Facebook to become more engaged with their own profile, surely that’s a plus for Facebook.
Till any of this changes however, try this site for your kids. Kibooku was set up to provide a safe environment for kids aged 6-13 to interact online. Facebook really could learn a thing or two here.