Facebook and children: With appropriate safeguards, children should be allowed to use social networks

In its early days, Facebook was a hangout for college students searching for hot dates and cold beer. Now the social network is open to all ages — except, in theory, the under-13s. Children need protecting from online bullies, cyberstalkers and inappropriate pictures, runs the logic. The problem is that the under-13s can enroll on Facebook simply by lying about their age. Some of them, parents will be shocked to hear, have actually done so: 5.6m in America alone, by one estimate. The current safeguards are as effective as a “Do not pilfer” sign on an unguarded cookie jar. It is time for a rethink.There are two options. Facebook can either try harder to prevent children from joining, or it can let them in, but with safeguards. The company is toying with the second idea (see article). Its bosses are debating whether to allow children to set up their own profiles under parental supervision. That could mean making it easy for parents to vet their children’s friends and to police the apps they use. Facebook is said to be looking at ways of charging parents for games and other apps that their offspring play with.
http://www.economist.com/node/21556578Also see:Facebook and the under-13s: Small children are a big headache for the social network
One American in three aged 65 or older uses social networks, says a new report by the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank. But it is the small surfers, not the silver ones, who are currently making waves. Facebook is examining ways to allow children under the age of 13 to use its service, with some form of parental supervision. If this happens — and Facebook stresses that it has not yet decided whether to go ahead — it would be a venture into uncharted territory.Critics howl that young children lack the maturity to cope with social networks. They also worry that Facebook will find devious ways to make money from naive children or, more likely, their parents. “We would be giving the keys to the chicken coop to the fox,” says Doug Fodeman of ChildrenOnline.org, a pressure group.

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