Facebook could soon be open to kids under 13

By Mariam Digges

Although Facebook is not open to children under the age of 13, more than 7.5 million kids still have active accounts by lying about their age, prompting the social media giant to trial new ways to allow minors to log on.

Similar to many other websites, Facebook bans all kids under 13, as federal law prohibits companies to collect information about minors without the permission of their parents. As a result, many sites find it easier to simply ban these underage users altogether.

Because Facebook is built on a concept of sharing – be it photos, personal information, or your current whereabouts – it could fast become a child predator’s dream… and a parent’s worst nightmare. However, according to statistics, there are 7.5 million kids under the age of 13 already actively using Facebook, out of the 900 million plus total users worldwide.

In response to these figures, Facebook released a statement earlier this year, conceding, “Just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services.”

“We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment,” a spokesperson for the company said.

Facebook is believed to be testing new ways for underage children to be able to use the site, without having to lie about their age. According to Stephen Balkan, the CEO of kids-and-technology nonprofit, the Family Online Safety Institute, Facebook could be closer to making this happen than everything thinks. He says the company has been in talks about about the trials for over a year, meaning it was months before Faebook’s initial public offering of stock, which happened in May.

“It has nothing to do with the IPO,” was Balkan’s s response to critics who are calling the moves just another push for expanding Facebook’s audience and hence, revenue streams, to raise share offerings.

Balkan offered some ideas about what Facebook might look like for kids. One such feature would be setting an automatic default, so that profiles of those under 13 would be restricted to “friends only”, preventing strangers from accessing their posts and personal details. Currently, users aged between 13 and 17 have their accounts automatically set to “friends of friends,” so this takes it a step further.

Another possible addition could be to give parents the authority to have the final say over who their children can become friends with. Additionally, ads could be removed from kids’ accounts also, to further counteract allegations of the social media site simply pushing for new revenue channels. 

At the end of the day, 13 is still incredibly young, even by Facebook’s standards. This is still well under the legal age of many other adult indulgences, like driving, drinking, and even sex. 

Balkan believes this is a positive move from Facebook;

“I think it would be a good thing if they do it right, rather than this untenable situation of just kicking off under-13s when they discover them.”

What are your thoughts about the new trials for kids under 13 using the site? Let us know under the Members Comments section below.


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