Facebook is apparently exploring ways to open the site to children younger than 13, the current and widely flouted age restriction for users.
The move, first reported in the Wall Street Journal Monday, is intended to both allow parents to better supervise children who are on Facebook and to capture a piece of the children’s advertising market.
The company might, for instance, create a type of account for kids that would allow a parent’s oversight on who is “friended” and which applications are used.
At the same time, it would give brands a new route to an impressionable audience.
The news brought a swift and mixed reaction. Common Sense Media officials said it raises privacy issues while offering no “meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13.”
“What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people — try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life,” said James Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media, in a statement.
Besides, do we really need another venue where companies can market junk food and plastic toys to our kids?
But, is Facebook just recognizing reality?
According to MinorMonitor, a children’s media watchdog group, a recent survey of 1000 parents of Facebook users revealed that 38 percent of children on Facebook are under 13.
Other estimates have suggested that about 7.5 million underage users are on the social media network.
Facebook officials told Mashable, in a non-confirmation reaction to the Wall Street Journal report, that “Many 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.”
So what’s the better compromise?
Create safeguards for parents who allow their children on Facebook with the trade-off that Facebook begins to allow advertising to children?
Or continue to restrict the social media site to children 13 and older and ignore the privacy and safety issues that unregulated use brings with it?
What do you think?