Feature

Facebook: Should preteens be allowed in?

The social-networking giant announced that it wants to launch a service for children under the age of 13.

Facebook already has our teenagers—so now it’s coming for our younger kids, said Lauren Ashburn in TheDailyBeast.com. The social-networking giant announced last week that it wants to launch a service for children under the age of 13, who are currently prohibited from using the site. Preteen accounts will be linked to those of their parents, says Facebook, so that their activity can be safely monitored. Even so, “as a mother, I can’t ‘like’ this idea.” For one thing, it would be nearly impossible for busy parents to keep up with their children’s online lives. Preteens would inevitably be exposed to the sexualized “flirting and flaunting” common to social media, and the potential for bullying and harassment would be huge. One million young people admitted being bullied on Facebook last year. Do we really want to put more “trusting souls in harm’s way”?

They’re already there, said The Economist in an editorial. Under-13s can easily get on Facebook “simply by lying about their age,” and in the U.S. alone, 5.6 million of them have already joined. These “vulnerable, clandestine underage users” have already created profiles with photos, names, and other personal information. Wouldn’t it be better for Facebook to create a safe, well-protected environment for preteens, rather than continue with safeguards “as effective as a ‘Do not pilfer’ sign on a cookie jar”? To let these younger kids join, said Larry Magid in HuffingtonPost.com, Facebook could establish a stricter set of privacy standards that would set parents’ minds to rest. Kids under 13 should have “an ad-free experience,” and Facebook should also promise not to collect and store personal information about children.

How naïve can you be? said Larry Mendte in PhillyMag.com. Facebook wants kids to join so it can sell them movies, video games, and clothes. After its “controversial and unimpressive” stock offering, Facebook is under pressure from investors concerned that the company has no way of sustaining its 88 percent annual growth rate. Its solution? Turn gullible preteens into “another revenue stream.” The question of allowing little kids on Facebook comes down to this, said Emily Bazelon in Slate.com. “How much do you trust the company to do right by them?” Given Facebook’s record of dealing with privacy issues, I’d advise skepticism. It’s already hard enough to monitor what your kids do online, and to limit how much time they spend there. “We don’t need Facebook to make it harder.”

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