In the past couple of months, Facebook has made an issue of how many profiles for children under 13 they have shut down, quoting numbers like 20,000 a day. So it came as something of a surprise, when the CEO himself, Mark Zuckerberg, talked openly about plans to make Facebook available for younger children. The remarks did turn out to be somewhat oversold by the media; what Facebook has done is simply air the idea and talk of a future possibility to open up for younger users – so that the network could be used for new activities, such as teaching. For many of Facebook’s critics, and advocates of net safety and proper web ethics, this sounds like a terrible idea – it would expose a far younger age group to all the problems and complications surrounding profile pictures, online friendships and netiquette.

But this might be the very reason this is actually a good idea.
The best bet on how many children under 13 are on Facebook right now is roughly 7.5 million – even compared to the over 500 million users total, this is not peanuts. Nobody knows how many such users sign up each day, and hence whether the numbers are rising or falling. American law has strong limitations on the usage of this age groups information, and when you have to contact or collect permission from parents. So strict are these limitations, that it is far better for Facebook to simply say no to this user group, or at least not allow them. This is the reason Facebook does not have a ‘children’s profile’-option. All profiles are equal and no one has any say in how anyone else uses the site. As obviously right this solution is for adults, it is equally wrong for raising children. Children do not need the same functionality as adults, may need protection in certain ways and from certain content and routinely benefit from adult supervision and control. They need adults. In Center for Digital Youth Care we advise parents to let they children use new technology and service as early as possible, but with whatever limitations they need to feel comfortable with it. Facebook already limits how a open a profile can be, for young people under 18. If children’s profiles were coupled with their parent’s, it opens new and exciting possibilities for guiding and following them, such as:

  • Closed friend’s list – mom and dad must approve all friendship-request to and from the child.
  • Control over privacy – mom and dad decide, and everything is closed off by default; the child can request additional rights on a case by case basis (‘Peter would like to share this picture with friends of friends).
  • ‘Look mom!’-functionality – the child can ask that a post, news story, picture or other content be shown to his or her parents. Both in cases of teasing or bullying, or for making sure mom and dad sees your latest school project.

There are numerous other possibilities. Men it makes no sense for us or anyone else to demand or ask that Facebook implement them, when only the 13-year-old and above are officially Facebook users. Vi hope that Facebook, and other social networks, does make a children’s profile. But is must be taken serious as a challenge, both with regards to security, but also as a unique opportunity to involve parents and extend the task of raising a child onto the net. If the kids are there, we should follow them as adults. It will be interesting to see if the plans become reality, and how it may be implemented – not least to see how Facebook conceives of education and child care on their platform in the future.

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