Facebook has a central position in the lives of many people and a new home on the NASDAQ under FB. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is currently developing new technology to open the site up to children younger than 13. As educators and parents we should voice an opinion.
Here are some of the issues related to Facebook's new plan enter the preteen market. As a self-professed geek and a mother I should be excited about this development but I"m not. Here are the issues I have with Facebook moving into the preteen world:
Facebook, by Zuckerberg's own admission, (Charlie Rose interview) is a company that likes to take technology to market rapidly and then refine it. This works well for Facebook but it isn't the best for users. Many of the security issues that have arisen with the website in the past are a product of this philosophy. No doubt Facebook will add filters to make the site "kid" friendly. The real question is: will they work?
Facebook is a time suck. It requires a lot of time to interact with friends on Facebook. Again, this works well for Facebook. Time-on-site is one of the major components in organic search algorithms. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. Do we really want our children spending even more time sitting in front of a screen in the future?
Facebook is a publicly traded company that is currently under immense pressure to perform and meet the expectations of new stockholders. One of the best ways to raise revenue is through targeted advertising. Again this sounds great for Facebook- the introduction of a huge new market of 6-12 year olds. Facebook is not like Edutopia.org or even the company I work for rhl.org; companies committed to making a difference. They are doing this for profit and to recruit our children into their network to ensure continued growth in the future.
Facebook can be as isolating as it is social for many children. One day I had the privilege of sitting and talking to a 16-year old boy with Aspergers named Nick. He loves to play video games. One of the only ways to connect with Nick and draw him out of his shell in a positive way is to talk to him about the games he likes to play and why. One day during a discussion he explained that there are many games that require Facebook friends to play. He then went on to explain that because he doesn't have any friends he has joined another site for kids like him that will provide you with fake Facebook friends so that you can play the games. Nick really thought this was funny- a way around the social exclusion that plagues him not only at school but also in his online life. According to Nick the fake Facebook friends site is really busy. He isn't alone.
Privacy policies for Internet companies are like a fashion show; constantly changing. What Facebook says they will do today regarding the privacy of our children could easily change tomorrow.
Then there are the recurrent concerns about bullying and online predators. Today many parents already help their children use Facebook before they are 13. This type of subterfuge is also concerning but hopefully these parents are very involved in the whole Facebook experience.
This pro-tech geek finds preteen Facebook a bad idea. Any thoughts or ideas about why 12 and under should be reserved for children's discount meals?
Lisa Pluth, PhD is a writer and researcher for RHL.org the best source for residence hall linens and twinXL bedding on the web.