This week new guidelines went into effect at Facebook that impact teens aged 13 – 17 years old. Until this week, the default setting for who could see the posts of minors was “friends of friends”, which meant that only a user’s friends and those friend’s friends could see content posted by an under 18 user.
Starting this week, the default setting will be the narrower “friends” setting, but users can opt to make the post public, expanding the reach of the post and at the same time expanding Facebook’s opportunity to use the post or user for advertising.
Lots of people are making a big deal out of it, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to anybody except Facebook, for one reason: On Facebook, nobody really knows how old you are. And Facebook doesn’t care.
Facebook claims that the changes will actually make the platform safer for young users, due to the fact that they will add alerts to remind young users of how they are posting:
“When teens choose “Public” in the audience selector, they’ll see a reminder that the post can be seen by anyone, not just people they know, with an option to change the post’s privacy.”
That is better than nothing, but it doesn’t change the fact that Facebook has no idea how old you really are.
I just went to Facebook, logged out of my account and clicked the button to create a new account. When setting up the account, I listed my date of birth as 1/1/2002, which would make me 11 years old. I got the message pictured at the right.
Then, using a different email address, I set up an account with the same name and password, and made my age 63 years old. No problem.
Facebook wants its user population to be as large as possible in order to drive advertising revenue. It has no incentive to implement a working age verification system, and regulators have implemented COPPA, but have no way to enforce the age vetting part of any network’s sign up process. Until then, it is up to parents to stay on top of which networks younger internet users are on, and whether they are staying safe.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.