Facebook has signed up to the AA ‘childhood’ review panel. Last year’s report from Ofcom indicated that nearly one in five 8 – 12 year olds has a Facebook profile despite the minimum user age set on the website. A worldwide report from America’s Consumer Reports claims that there are over 7 million under 13s on Facebook. Yet the sign up page for the site clearly states that you should be at least 13 to join. In light of these contradictions it is good and important that Facebook are joining this panel.
Earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg speaking at a summit on innovation in schools in California said that he thought that the 13 year old age restriction was wrong however. His view is that it is better for kids to use Facebook at an earlier age than is currently allowed.
At the moment the fact is that if you sign up and you’re under 13 then you’re starting your relationship with Facebook with a lie (your date of birth). This is not the best way to be initiated into the world of social media.
Parents come under huge amounts of pressure to endorse the use of Facebook at an earlier age than 13. Clearly many just give in under pressure from the universal argument “but everyone else in my class is on Facebook” and because there are bigger battles to be fought. I actually asked Blake Chandlee to send me an email for my kids explaining that they had to wait until they were older (he very kindly did so and it worked much more effectively than my “because I say so” refusal).
The situation is full of conflict. Facebook rules say you can’t join if you’re under 13, but Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t really agree. If you do join under age there is very little chance of any kind of comeback. And it means that you start with a deceit.
It is right and proper that Facebook should take responsibility for this situation.
We suffer when the prevailing zeitgeist is for self-centred commercial interests to act like irresponsible pre-teens. We need more and better citizenship from powerful media outlets. Especially from the global ones.