The Internet gives children the opportunity to access information on an unprecedented level. Kids pick up sophisticated Web surfing habits early on. Many of them realize that most of their questions can be answered after a simple Internet search. And through social networks like Facebook, kids can keep up with what their friends are up to even if they're hundreds of miles away.
But is all this access safe for kids? According to Facebook's page on safety, the answer is no. That's why Facebook has an age limit on who can create a profile. No one under 13 years old can create a Facebook profile. In fact, the safety page states that they "are not permitted access" at all [source: Facebook].
Considering some of the games and features you can find on Facebook, this policy might come as a surprise. Games like Farmville and Happy Aquarium have cartoonish graphics that appeal to kids. But Facebook has other features that make it unsuitable for children.
If you look into the history of Facebook, you'll see that the site wasn't designed with kids in mind. Founder Mark Zuckerberg launched the site -- then called "the facebook" -- in 2004 as a networking site for students and faculty at Harvard. The site was an overnight success and soon Zuckerberg extended it across other colleges. For the first two years of its existence, only college students and faculty could create Facebook accounts.
In 2006, Facebook became an open social networking platform for anyone with a registered e-mail address as long as they also were at least 13 years old. Since Facebook wasn't built with children in mind, it's no surprise that the site isn't a great fit for kids.
Facebook Safety Precautions
The purpose of Facebook is to provide members the opportunity to make connections with old friends, meet new friends and engage in various online social activities with people in their networks. But it can also serve as a way for predators to find potential victims. Facebook has tweaked its privacy settings to make it easier for people to choose who can and can't access information on their profiles. But the purpose of any social network is to create a way for people to find you. Otherwise, why join a social network?
While Facebook has policies that forbid offensive and dangerous material, it's impossible for the site to prevent anyone from posting something offensive. Users can post links, videos, messages and other content to their profiles and, depending upon privacy settings, the profiles of their Facebook friends. Some of that material might violate Facebook's policies.
Facebook allows members to block anyone who posts inappropriate or offensive material to their own profile pages. Users can also flag content as offensive and Facebook has a team of professionals who review the site for anything that violates Facebook policies. Still, inappropriate material does find its way onto the site regularly.
On top of those concerns are privacy issues. Users can choose how much information to share with the rest of the world. If a user opts for a public profile, anyone searching for that person might be able to see information ranging from the user's birthday to his or her home address and phone number. Other information might include what school the user goes to and who the user's friends are.
Facebook leaves much of user safety in the user's hands. It's up to the individual person to adjust his or her privacy settings. Facebook can't stop someone from sharing too much personal information or posting something that might bring them into harm's way. Facebook suggests parents talk to their children about Web safety. The site also mentions that parents may want to install monitoring software on their children's computers to keep track of the sites kids visit.
Parents may want to research kid-friendly social networking sites and reserve access to Facebook for a time when their children are old enough to use it safely. In many ways, Facebook serves as a microcosm for the Web in general. With education, guidance and communication, Facebook can be a safe and fun way to stay in touch with friends. But without those elements, kids could run into trouble.
For more on Facebook and other social networking sites, follow the links on the next page.
Related How Stuff Works Articles
- Facebook. "Facebook Safety." (Feb. 18, 2010) http://www.facebook.com/help/?safety
- Facebook. "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities." (Feb. 18, 2010) http://www.facebook.com/terms.php
- Facebook. "Statistics." (Feb. 18, 2010) http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
- Phillips, Sarha. "A brief history of Facebook." The Guardian. July 25, 2007. (Feb. 18, 2010) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/jul/25/media.newmedia