Preventing underage Facebooking

by Alyssa Palo

Forget about the âÄúSendâÄù button, Facebook. Hold off on trying to enhance picture quality or create easier ways to tag friends in pictures or allowing users to tag Pages in posts.

In Consumer ReportsâÄô annual âÄúState of the NetâÄù survey, they found that 7.5 million Facebook users in the U.S. are under the age of 13. But according to the article, the number could be higher because not many kids are telling their parents that they joined the site.

This is appalling. I am a Facebook user and IâÄôm very concerned with the number of underage, defined as under 13, users on Facebook. I know that it is very easy to bypass the age question when registering for an account, and there should be a better way to prevent under-13âÄôs from joining. A drop-down window asking, âÄúHow old are you?âÄù simply isnâÄôt good enough.

ItâÄôs not that hard to lie about your age. In a 2006 survey 31 percent of seventh to 12th graders pretended to be older to get onto a website. Facebook has a system in which other Facebook users can report under-13âÄôs, but I donâÄôt consider this an effective way to keep kids off the site.

Facebook has said in the past, and in this recent survey, that it is very difficult to develop age-verification technology, knowledge-based or any other technology to screen its users. A main argument is that the technology is nonexistent and costly to produce, but IâÄôm sure that Facebook can afford to research and develop the technology.

The article in Consumer Reports says, âÄúWe all know how bright those folks are that run it. I cannot believe that they cannot devise better systems for preventing kids under 13 than just asking for a birth date.âÄù I completely agree. If Facebook can figure out how to redesign its news feed or allow users to attach documents, they should be able to figure out a way to screen its users ages.

If Facebook is unable to develop the technology on its own, IâÄôm sure that there is the possibility of working with third-party companies to create it. The process of creating the technology could spur innovation in this economy and the development could create new jobs. The cost in the short run would provide great benefits in the long run âÄî fewer younger users would be on Facebook, which would decrease cyberbullying.

Pre-teens believe that the âÄúveil of protectionâÄù of the Internet can protect them from consequences, and IâÄôm sure that if banned from Facebook, theyâÄôll flock to new sites. It will be very difficult to control this, which is why efforts have failed in the past.

There are legal barriers of course. The ChildrenâÄôs Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 prevents websites from collecting data from under-13âÄôs. This is why sites require you to be at least 13 or 14 before making an account, with the exception of pornography sites. I think that COPPA needs to be changed so that age-verification technology can be implemented âÄî sites would need to collect some information from under-13âÄôs, but COPPA makes this illegal. There would be other roadblocks as well, such as enforcing new laws or jurisdiction.

There should be new legislation to address the negatives of social networking. If social networking continues into the future, I can guarantee that there will be more problems so itâÄôs best to be proactive rather than reactive.

The legal system needs to keep up with the world and revise its outdated laws. Since the family institution has failed in protecting kids from joining social networking sites, I think that itâÄôs time for the government to step in. Parents are digital immigrants while their children are the natives âÄî they may not be digitally literate enough to prevent little Johnny from bashing on little Susie on the Internet. PTA roundtables and âÄúparent-child agreementsâÄù arenâÄôt enough.

Revise COPPA. Implement age-verification technology on Facebook and other social networking sites and make a real effort to keep under-13âÄôs off Facebook. Parents will thank you.