Risky Behavior: Do You Let Your Kids Lie About Their Age on Social Networks?

.When your 10-year-old child complains that all his or her friends already have a Facebook account, it might not be an exaggeration.

In spite of Facebook’s terms of service that states users must be at least 13 years of age, a Consumer Reports study in July of 2011 found that at least 7.5 million kids 12 or under were using Facebook – and that 5 million of these kids were 10 or younger[i]. 

“Despite Facebook’s age requirements, many kids are using the site who shouldn’t be. What’s even more troubling was the finding… that a majority of parents of kids 10 and under seemed largely unconcerned by their children’s use of the site.” says Jeff Fox, technology editor for Consumer Reports. 

Another study, by MinorMonitor in April 2012, claims that 38 percent of minors on Facebook are now under the 13-year-old age requirement and that 4 percent of these underage users are 6-years-old or younger[ii]. And this is in spite of Facebook’s Chief Privacy Adviser Mozelle Thompson’s statement that "Facebook removes 20,000 people a day, people who are underage."

Most of these underage accounts aren’t a secret. Parents are not only well aware of their kids’ Facebook accounts but also in many cases, they helped their children create the accounts.

If parents helped create the accounts, or are aware their underage children are using Facebook, what’s the problem?

The website is not designed for use by children.

  • Teaching kids it is all right to ignore the rules sets a poor precedent for online and offline behavior and actions.

  • Facebook is not designed to protect children. Web services that cater to children under the age of 13 have additional privacy and safety requirements placed on them by law. Perhaps the best-known law is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that requires site operators to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing any personal information related to the child.  Many social networking sites have implemented measures to comply with COPPA, this is not something Facebook has chosen to do.

  • Unlike social networking sites that are specifically designed for children and young teens, Facebook does not have a team of moderators monitoring and intervening when conversations become abusive or risky.  

    • 30 percent of underage users have experienced bullying on Facebook. And young kids have fewer tools to help them cope with cyberbullying. 

    • The lack of moderators increases young children’s exposure or risk of oversharing their own or family and friends’ personal information and falling victim to identity theft; contact with inappropriate strangers and sexual predators; pornography and pressures for sexting; as well as hate, violence, drug, and alcohol-related content.

  • Facebook is a major distribution method for malware, and underage users are significantly more likely to lack the skills needed to identify malicious links than older teens and adults. Consumer Reports estimates that malware cost consumers $2.3 billion last year and forced them to replace 1.3 million PCs[iii].

  • Because Facebook does not target minors, their advertisers do not have to comply with national legislation and advertising standards for youth under 13-years of age.  Facebook accepts ads from dating services, alcohol and gambling companies, and ads offering subscriptions services. Evidence shows a clear link between alcohol and cigarette ads and heavier underage initiation and use patterns[iv].

For many parents, it is a lack of awareness about suitable social networking alternatives that finally gets them to cave into their underage child’s wish for a Facebook account. Help your child discover a wealth of alternatives that are more appropriate for engaging younger audiences.

[i] CR Survey: 7.5 Million Facebook Users are Under the Age of 13, Violating the Site’s Terms

[ii] http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57413806-71/thirty-eight-percent-of-kids-on-facebook-under-13

[iii] http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2011/05/cr-survey-75-million-facebook-users-are-under-the-age-of-13-violating-the-sites-terms-.html

[iv] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120429085417.htm

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