Facebook Wants Your Children

Facebook Wants Your Children

Mark Zuckerberg said younger children should be allowed on Facebook for educational purposes, in the latest debate on what, if any, role social media plays in the lives of children.

The Palo Alto, Calif-based company’s founder and CEO, speaking at a conference on private investment in education earlier this week, said software and technology will enable young people to learn from sharing with their fellow students in the future, and Facebook should play a role in that process.

“That will be a fight we take on at some point,” Zuckerberg said about the issue of allowing younger kids on the site. “My philosophy is that for education, you need to start at a really, really young age.”

Zuckerberg’s fighting words refer to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which restricts websites from collecting information from those under 13.

Zukerberg said the social media site hasn’t done much to protect users under 13 because of COPPA restrictions, but says if they were lifted, Facebook would implement programs that would be tailored to younger users.

In return for lifting the Act, or exempting Facebook from it, Zuckerberg said the social network would “take a lot of precautions” to ensure those younger kids’ safety.

Some see Zuckerberg’s stand as a little disingenuous, though, because COPPA doesn’t completely prevent those under the age of 13 from joining a site, as any parent whose child is a Club Penguin member knows.

But the act does require a little extra effort from the sites to allow sufficient protection for these young users. Rather than banning children outright, COPPA requires site operators to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing the child’s personal information.

Since Facebook doesn’t include this parental verification step, it isn’t in compliance with the specific COPPA provision and so can’t create accounts for children under the age of 13.

Even though Facebook has a policy that users under the age of 13 aren’t allowed to use the social network, there is little to prevent children from setting up accounts using false birthday information, and many already do this. Consumer Reports recently estimated there are approximately 7.5 million underage kids, two-thirds of them under the age of 10, on Facebook.

Just last week, Bret Taylor, Facebook chief technology officer, was questioned by Senator John D. Rockefeller about underage kids on the site. Rockefeller called some of Facebook’s practices regarding younger children indefensible, but Taylor insisted that the social media giant shuts down accounts when they find out their users have misrepresented their age. Still, enforcing age restrictions on the Internet has proven to be difficult.

Facebook said in March it removes about 20,000 profiles from the site per day for various reasons, including those who are determined to be underaged.

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