Under age Facebook accounts

Sep 11, 2013 by

I’d like to talk again about social media and the responsibilities of the bigger players and their role to protect the vulnerable.

Not long ago I was co-host of a conference looking at children in the media and Facebook and Google sent representatives to address the conference. During the course of the Facebook presentation we were told that there were 80 million fake Facebook accounts by their reckoning and many thousands of accounts where parents had falsified the age of their child in order to allow then to have an account. Now Facebook were recently made aware in no uncertain terms by a large section of the community of its displeasure when they suggested scrapping any age limit at all to have an account. We all know what happens when you have a combination of under 13’s and poor parental supervision – the dangers of exploitation of grooming and exploitation are increased. I formulated a proposal then, and stand by it now, that if some of the funds allocated by these international companies to pay for security and prevention of child abuse were targeted in a more specific way we might get somewhere faster.

My suggestion is that the large companies fund schools to provide time for either an existing member of staff or a part time person to act as guarantor of the age of the child applying for an account. Schools are the perfect place to say whether a child is a specific age or not. At least then if we were virtually guaranteed that all account holder were over 13 some of the worries would be eased.

You wouldn’t let under 13’s participate in many things in life which are risky or dangerous, you wouldn’t let them drive a car without proof of age, you wouldn’t let them drink in a pub, you wouldn’t let them see adult films or buy cigarettes. All of these things are considered inappropriate or too risky for young children. So why with all the evidence of the risks that the internet poses to the young and impressionable, do we allow them, or irresponsible parents, to become part of an activity that has inherent risks that we all know too well about.

It just requires commitment and momentum and would not be harmful to public relations of the companies. This is not extra work for the schools, it is paid for additional staff time. Certainly it would require coordination and some effort in its setting up, but if Facebook are able to measure how many accounts are already falsely created but can’t do anything about them, there should be work undertaken to monitor the impact as in any risk assessment.

I had an interesting response when I floated this idea before so I’d very much like to hear your response this time as I intend to firm it up and send it through to the Department for Education.

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1 Comment

  1. Tony Domaille

    Only Facebook themselves might argue that we do not have a problem to address, but I am unsure about the guarantor idea. Facebook claims to have, on average, 665 million users daily. How many of those are under thirteen is impossible to guess, but administering a guarantor system for hundreds of thousands (probably millions) is a head spinning prospect. In any case, when an account is opened, how would Facebook know it was for an under age user and know to seek that guarantee?

    Maybe I am missing the working mechanics of a workable guarantor scheme, but perhaps we could see more detail and then support would surely follow.

    The quality of parenting is a major concern in this Country with too many abrogating their responsibilities. Young people have always smoked under age, used alcohol under age, experimented with drugs, sex, gambling and anything else they know very well society does not believe they should be involved with until they reach a certain age. That has always been the case and the role of parents is to seek to dampen down those wants. The state plugging the gap should be the last resort, yet it seems we increasingly accept poor parenting and look to plug the gaps for them.

    As things stand, Facebook should be placed under the maximum pressure to maintain the minimum age for an account user. Facebook should face its responsibilities. But before we place all the onus on them and schools to police social media account applications, perhaps we should be putting maximum pressure on parents and telling them to face their responsibilities. Ironically, in this digital age, the very people who need to be reached on this topic are easily and cheaply reached.

    There are plenty of examples of societal changes in attitude as a result of clear policy being made and pushed so that certain behaviour becomes seen as unacceptable. I see no reason why that could not happen with social media, but like the blogger, I am very interested to hear the views of others.

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