Facebook and Teens: The Silver Lining behind the Hysteria

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So last week, Facebook announced that it’s changed its rules about how it handles the accounts of 13-17 year olds.  Instead of only allowing those account-holders to share their posts and information with just their own friends, and friends of friends (as it has always been)  they will now be able to share with everyone (as twitter, instagram, etc already allow.)

The response has been pretty hysterical, with headlines like “Facebook  Teens Exposed to the Entire World.” in the UK.  And “Facebook loosens privacy restrictions for minors amid cyber bullying concerns” (is there a correlation? I don’t think so) on the ever hysterical Fox News.

As the co-founder of KidzVuz, a website for kids 7-13 that is COPPA compliant, and super serious about kids’ privacy, I’m going to surprise you:  I think the loosening of the restrictions will end up being a good thing.

But notice I’m saying it will END UP being a good thing.  In and of itself, exposing kids’ private information to the world at large is not so good.  (Though the default setting will still be to share with only friends and friends of friends; you’ll have to actively opt-in for public sharing)  Kids this age don’t have the best filter when it come to what and what not to share.  They’re teenagers, after all.  And yet I still maintain that ultimately, Facebook has done us all a favor.

Look, it’s not Facebook’s fault that the law is ridiculous.  It’s not Facebook’s fault that the FTC has decided that 13 year olds are able to agree to Terms of Use.  That they no longer need to be protected from behavioral tracking.  That they are allowed to post videos of themselves for the world to see.

I mean,  who decided 13 was the age when a kid becomes an adult?  Is everyone at the FTC an Orthodox Jew?  Are they down there in Washington thinking “Well, they’ve had their Bar Mitzvahs! They’re adults!”

The truth is, kids need to be protected well past the age of 13.  Cyberbullies. Online predators. Themselves.

My hope is that Facebook’s acknowledging that the law allows them to allow kids to put themselves at risk will wake people up.  And right now, when teens are leaving Facebook in droves for newer, hipper online climes, that acknowledgement will do less harm than it might have.  Maybe when a giant like Facebook takes full legal advantage of a ridiculous law, people will notice, and do something to change the law so that it protects kids better and longer than it does right now.

Maybe the next time I go to a Bar Mitzvah, I pray for that.



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