Facebook's 'disturbing' pre-teen problem
A new survey says millions of American children are on Facebook — in violation of the site's easy-to-evade age requirements
A new survey by Consumer Reports has uncovered "several disturbing findings about children and Facebook," as well as other information about Americans' internet use. Most notably, millions of young children are using the share-all social networking site — often, with no parental supervision. Here, a guide to the report:
How many youngsters are on Facebook?Roughly 7.5 million Facebook members are Americans under 13 — and 5 million are age 10 or younger. Facebook's official policy requires people who sign up for the service to be at least 13 years old, but many users can easily get away with simply breaking those rules.
Do bad things happen to these kids?The online accounts of these children "were largely unsupervised by their parents," which means the children could be exposed to malicious software, online predators, or cyberbullying. In fact, 1 million children "were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying."
What does Facebook say?In a statement quoted by Bloomberg, the company said that "recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the internet, and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don't circumvent a system or lie about their age."
And what is it doing to deal with the problem?Just last month, Facebook "rolled out new security tools aimed at improving how users report bullying, fake profiles and offensive content, in addition to announcing a teacher's guide to the social network," says Shan Li at the Los Angeles Times. It has also launched a redesigned Family Safety Center with tips on using the site securely.
What else can be done?This issue "isn't easy to fix," says Larry Magid at CNET. "The problem is that Facebook and virtually all other social-networking sites rely on information provided by the user." The company does have systems meant to catch people who lie about their age, but "they are far from perfect." Consumer Reports recommends that parents monitor their kids' Facebook accounts by adding them as a "friend." (It found that only 18 percent of parents were doing that with children under 10.) And both adults and kids should make use of Facebook's privacy settings. Parents may "like to think our children are innocent and angelic when they're little," says Ed Oswald at PCWorld, but leaving kids "unsupervised on the internet is never a good idea."