Three Problems with Controlling Minors on Facebook

Today reports broke that Facebook would be exploring features that would allowed children under 13 to use Facebook. These reports, which initially surfaced in the Wall St. Journal and later supported by Mashable, do no more than speculate, but as a social media professional, I think this is a dangerous arena to play in.

It was not long ago that I got a text from a friend at Action News Jax, one of the city’s local news stations, that they wanted my reaction to a local school that had been torn apart by Facebook bullying. Students used the groups feature to create “Burn Pages;” sharing pretty nasty memes about other students using the popular meme-generator.net. Parents had no idea how to stop it, and school officials felt as though they weren’t in the right to take action. After a few fights in school, the staff politely asked students to take it down, but that was about it.

While Cyber bullying is a threat at any age, I believe many problems of youth today are caused by the influx in power that kids born into the information age have. I’m all for the openness of the web, and I was a young foolish kid online too, but recently I’ve seen too many hurt children, too many cases of abuse and suicide as a result of social bullying.

So without riding too high on my soapbox, here are three personal reasons why I believe we need to seriously think about how we are allowing minors to use Facebook.

On the internet no one knows you’re a dog.

The great cartoon famous now for symbolizing anonymity on the internet still holds true today. While sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have made huge strides towards the personalization and humanization of the web, it’s still very much anonymous.
As a 13 year old with the internet in 1999, things were a lot different for me. My parents were more worried about putting my personal information out in a chat room or on AIM. Facebook has amplified the amount of personal information shared daily. If I were a teen today, I’d be hard pressed not to share the details of life with my friends…heck I’m hard pressed not to do that now!

What you write is forever!

Anyone can create a Gmail in five minutes and have an entirely new online persona from Twitter to their own blog. There is no filter, no system of checks and balances, and for the increasing number of our minors with access to smartphones, laptops, and the mobile web, anything can be written about anyone, and this lasts forever. Granted, you might have a few years to counteract the bad stuff, but SEO is no joke today, and I’d hate to be 13 and have hateful pieces of media floating around my name.

“They’re already there or Parents can control it” is a weak argument

We all were 13. The concept of “parental control” is loose once you hit high school. You are exploring yourself and defining who you are as a social individual, these are the formative years. Do you think having your parents control it will make it any better?

We already have had multiple news reports about parents crossing the line and approaching (even choking) children who have bullied their kids. The space is there, and the fearlessness of youth will always prevail over common sense.

Do I think kids under 13 should be allowed on Facebook? Not really. Do I think kids should be educated about the data-driven society we live in today? Yes.

According to a Mashable article a few weeks ago, MinorMonitor, a tool for parents to watch their children’s Facebook activities, surveyed 1,000 parents about how their children use Facebook, finding that 38% of children on Facebook are 12 and under. Of the 1,000 children represented by their parents, 40 were under age six.

Clearly media education in our schools is something that is totally necessary, especially in the digital world we live in today.

This may sound silly, but I’ll close this little diatribe with a Dave Chappelle bit. How old is 15 really? Sounds funny, but he makes a great point…a person is not as smart as they’re going to be at 15…but with the internet, anything goes. A parent can hope that they’ve educated their child to a point where they can make their own decisions in the moment, but in the end it takes a village to raise a child.

Now I say all this as a former kid who definitely had his fair share of teasing, but I’m not a parent, so I really hope that some parents can weigh in on this situation. This also doest even scratch the surface on a market’s responsibility when advertising in spaces where minors and adults congregate together…

So please make your voice heard below and let’s start a conversation.

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Posted on June 4, 2012, in Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Carmen Cicero

    Well, I guess a little bit of choking never hurt anyone but better make sure it’s your own kid. Sounds like a little sunk in growing up. Hard to say what the right approach would be in this instance. Can’t you just lie about how old you are on this machine anyways? This new tool we have is no different than a hammer I use everyday, it can be awesome if used correctly but very dangerous if used improperly. I’m not sure that cyber limits will be effective unless someone is there to ” choke” the person doing it. Facebook can’t possibly monitor the monster they have created always. Unfortunately, this must fall upon parents to guide and teach their children how to properly use these new tools. Perhaps, although no one will want to hear this, a monthly access fee for Facebook would slow down random bullying and fake profiles.

    • Hey you kinda sound a lot like my dad…you definitely can just lie about age, which is why so many kids under 13 are already on. What control do we have? None really. The same access to information we have as adults is now available to kids, and we need to always keep all audiences in mind because of that. And I never really got choked out…more bars of soap and flung flip-flops

  2. I think there are real problems here — even with the young teenagers already on Facebook. I see plenty of things that are not appropriate for 13-year olds. Why not give people the option to make their profiles and pages available only to those 18+? If Facebook doesn’t come up with something, we’ll end up with some kind of braindead rating system like we saw with movies.

    Re bullying: this is a serious problem. People think it’s “just” the unpopular kids not their kids. But, from what I’ve seen with my nieces, the flaming and cruelty hit fast and hard at all kinds of kids. And, like it or not, many of these kids are unsupervised online. So what do we do? I don’t know, but adding even younger, less mature, users hardly seems like the right solution. Maybe Facebook needs to return to its roots and create walled gardens by school for kids?

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