Research shows that older teens in secondary schools are navigating away from Facebook but primary school children are gravitating towards it at an alarming rate with ever decreasing ages.
The UK Safer Internet Centre have very close working links with Facebook and at the Safer Internet Centre national eSafety briefings this year, the advice was as follows:
- It is known under 13s use Facebook and this is an ongoing problem because the environment is not suitable for younger pupils. Continuing to support and educate young people is critical, but we should bear in mind the legalities of under 13s on Facebook.
- Any under 13 signing up to Facebook does so with a falsified date of birth, which is, technically, fraud, though law enforcement would never be used to deal with this problem.
- Facebook has to comply with COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998). This means Facebook may not hold any details of young people under the age of 13 and they may not advertise to this group either. This legal restriction applies to Facebook regardless of where the child is signing up from (America or the rest of the world).
Issues with Profiles
It is regularly observed that children’s Facebook profiles:
- are not properly secured with poor privacy settings that mean anyone in the world can see their profile;
- have pictures of them (and other children) in their school uniform, which makes them easily identifiable and means people can work out where they will be in real life;
- have content which is wholly inappropriate in terms of the language and/or images on them. (And even if your child’s profile is appropriate, being ‘friends’ with someone who has such a profile means your child can see it).
Safeguarding issue with Facebook
- Facebook use “age targeted” advertising and therefore your child could be exposed to adverts of a sexual or other inappropriate nature, depending on the age they stated they were when they registered.
- Children may accept friend requests from people they don’t know in real life, which could increase the risk of inappropriate or dangerous contact or behaviour
- Language, games, groups and content posted or shared on Facebook is not moderated, and therefore can be offensive, illegal or unsuitable for children.
- Photographs shared by users are not moderated and therefore children could be exposed to inappropriate images or even post their own.
- Underage users might be less likely to keep their identities private and lying about their age can expose them to further risks regarding privacy settings and options
- Facebook could be exploited by bullies and for other inappropriate contact.
- Facebook cannot and does not verify its members; therefore it is important to remember that if your child can lie about their age and who they are online, so can anyone else!
We feel it is important to point out to parents the risks of underage use of such sites, so you can make an informed decision as to whether to allow your child to have a profile once they reach the age of 13. Should you decide to allow your child to have a Facebook profile we strongly advise you to:
- Check their profile is set to private and that only friends can see information that is posted
- Monitor your child’s use and talk to them about safe and appropriate online behaviour such as not sharing personal information and not posting offensive messages or photos
- Ask them to install the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) application from facebook.com/clickceop on their profile. This places a bookmark on their profile to CEOP and the Report Abuse button which has been known to deter offenders
- Have a look at the advice for parents/carers from Facebook
- Set up your own profile so you understand how the site works and ask them to have you as a friend on their profile so you know what they are posting online
- Make sure your child understands the following basic E-safety rules.
- Always keep your profile as private as possible.
- If possible, don’t put in your full name, e.g. Bart S, instead of Bart Simpson
- Never accept friends you don’t know in real life
- Never post anything – writing or images – which could reveal your identity
- Never post anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see
- Never agree to meet somebody you only know online without telling a trusted adult
- Always tell someone if you feel threatened or someone upsets you
As with all use of technology by young people, we recommend that all parents visit the CEOP Think U Know website for more information on keeping your child safe online.
There is also a useful visual guide to Facebook privacy/security settings on PixelPrivacy.