Facebook Wants Your Pre-Teens On Its Timeline

“Get them while they’re young,” said Che and Evita (in Evita). Mark Zuckerberg said he would take this on at some point, so here he goes… Facebook wants to officially provide access to children under 13, but under strict parental supervision. The popular social networking site already gets a lot of flak for under-aged account holders (who easily bypass the age restriction warning by clicking “Yes, I’m Over 13”), but it can’t resist the potential profits. Facebook representatives acknowledged the concern on protecting your kids’ privacy.

Recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services. We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policy makers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.

The social networking site could use the extra boost, but not at the expense of further backlash — Facebook’s stock price is currently tumbling (FB – $27.7), trading way below its $38 IPO price. The lifting of the lockup period means more shares will be flooding the market (but only to select buyers), further lowering the stock price. But I digress…

Facebook wants to connect your pre-teens to the popular social media site.

Facebook wants to connect your pre-teens to the popular social media site. (Image: Shutterstock)

A 2011 First Monday (online journal) study shows 55% of 12 year-old kids are on FB, while 32% of 11 year-olds and 19% of 10 year-olds also have FB accounts. Facebook wants to tap this expanding market while trying to assuage parents’ fears by enforcing mechanisms to protect their kids. Some of these mechanisms reportedly include linking children’s accounts with their parents’ — allowing parents to filter friend requests and select age-appropriate games. Such a link may enable Facebook and its partners to charge parents’ accounts for the games and apps their children use.

Facebook’s vast reach currently tallies up to 900 million world-wide (192 million in Asia alone), and 2011 consumer reports indicate 7.5 million children under 13 are using the site — including more than five million under the age of 10. Recent rashes of cyberbullying put parents on high alert. The social network giant recently settled with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over user complaints on the site’s misuse of their personal information. Facebook has since agreed to regular privacy audits, but the giant site still has a lot of work to do to protect regular users. Which makes this move even more concerning for some sectors.

Knowing full well it couldn’t stem the tide of youngsters joining up and using the site unsupervised, Facebook’s developers have been working hard to provide kids with official access, sanctioned by their parents. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Facebook reportedly worked with “identity-verification providers” to get “verifiable consent” from parents.

Reminds me of child leashes — or “child safety tethers”, popular with parents of hyperactive kids (shoutout to Modern Family season 3 episode 22: Disneyland). Do you treat your child like a dog or do you let him run around and risk losing him in the crowd (or getting abducted by weirdos)? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Facebook wants to make sure your kids are safe against online predators and cyberbullies, while at the same time making some dough off of you parents. Who’s to say they’re not trying to help (themselves)?