Thirteen year olds have been banned from Facebook as general policy. However, simply by giving a fake birth date, children have been able to set up their own accounts ? illegally so to speak. It is rumored that soon it will be OK under the Facebook guidelines to allow younger children to join the social network. The much debated access will need to follow several government guidelines.
The new access is supposed to require parental involvement which would restrict which ?friends? their children could associate with. The no-under-thirteen rule was an attempt to protect children from rampant cyber-bullying, child pornography, and connections to less than savory characters.
Several safeguards are already in effect. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by the US Congress related to restricting offensive content over the Internet in schools and libraries. CIPA covered facilities must certify that they have technology protection measures in place to ensure child safety on the Internet. Those measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are obscene; involve child pornography; or is harmful to minors accessing the computers.
Congress also enacted the Children?s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. The goal was to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. The Rule was designed to protect children under age 13 while accounting for the dynamic nature of the Internet. The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children.
A Facebook spokesperson, when queried by the BBC about the relaxing their rules, skirted the question of the validity of the rumor by saying that the company was constantly testing new technologies. Why would Facebook open Pandora?s box of potential privacy concerns once again? In a word, Revenue. New users who access the games and entertainment available through Facebook could boost the company?s bottom line quickly.
It?s not as if that hasn?t already been happening. Several studies indicate that under-13?s are already enjoying the benefits, and braving the dangers, of having a Facebook account. More than half the parents whose children were on Facebook knew their child had joined before they became a teenager. McAfee found in 2010 that more than one-third of children 10-12 years of age were already on Facebook. Just a year ago, one survey showed that an increasing number of parents say they have no problem with a pre-teen child using a social media site. A study last year by UK regulator Ofcom found that a quarter of British 8-12-year-olds who use a home computer have profiles on social-network sites.
Barely more than a preteen himself when he founded the controversial company, Facebook?s CEO Mark Zuckerberg says: "We’d take a lot of precautions to make sure that the under-13s are safe." Now that Mr. Zuckerberg is married and a potential father, his concern and actions regarding the safety of children on the Internet may change. You can check out what?s now available at Facebook regarding safety.
A behavior health specialist in the Hawaii Department of Education, Donnel Nunes, opined: "I?m also a little cautious about making correlations between social networking and deviant behavior. I don?t believe there is any evidence to support that social networking equates to bad choices, bad behavior."
So bad behavior isn?t the result of Facebook, but can bad consequences result? As is the case with all childhood activities, parents must monitor and be the final decision maker as to what participation is good or questionable for their children.