In The News: Kids Under 13 On Facebook Say “Lying to a Computer” is OK

Kids interviewed for the NY Times article, “Facebook Users Who Are Under Age Raise Concerns,” stated that lying to a computer was different than lying to a person.

“It’s one thing to lie to a person,” says one kid quoted in the article. “But this is lying to a computer.”

Kids under the age of 13 are forced to lie about their age, if they want to open an account on the popular social media site. This is because Facebook does not comply with COPPA, the act which mandates secure handling of private information, monitoring and oversight for kids under the age of 13 on web sites.

However, as we’ve reported previously:

  • COPPA is largely unknown among parents, who feel under pressure to allow their kids to gain Internet experience
  • Kids complain that “all my friends” are on Facebook – and they are likely close to being correct in this statement
  • Kids are attracted to the online games, like Farmville, which are only available on Facebook
  • Many parents report giving permission to their tweens to lie to Facebook so that they can have profiles there
  • An estimated 31% of all children under the age of 13 are using social networking sites designed for adults, according to the most recent survey available from the Pew Research Center
  • Other sources report as high as 48% and more kids in this category are using sites which are not COPPA-compliant

Expert Larry Magid is quoted in the story, as being critical of Facebook’s efforts to reign in under-age users.

“There is no question that Facebook has to be aware that they have a very large number of under-13 members on the site,” Magid is quoted as stating. “Facebook has no resources to help the younger kids…”

True enough. Facebook is no doubt well aware of the problem, and seems largely to side-steps the issue. To be fair, the issue is not an easy one to tackle; how are Facebook and other sites supposed to know when a new user is lying about his or her age?

Well, we think that there ARE some steps which Facebook and other social networking sites could take to help protect younger kids.

What Facebook CAN Do Better To Help

Here are some changes which could help – and which we call upon Facebook and other non-COPPA-compliant social media sites to make in order to protect our kids:

  • Do a better job to EDUCATE users on the reason for the age requirement. Most parents are not aware that the 13yo requirement is a mandate from the US government, as stated in COPPA. Armed with this knowledge, more parents might be willing to stand up to their tween and deny them a Facebook account. In short, 13 is not some arbitrary age limit put in place by Facebook – and it should not be ignored.
  • Enable the community to SELF-POLICE, by providing a notification flag of some sort to its users. If a user becomes aware that another person on the site is under the age of 13 - for example, if an adult or teen knows a child and spots them on Facebook – then they could report that to the site and have the profile removed.

Beyond Facebook and sites like it, it’s up to the parents to enforce the rules – and let kids know that it’s NOT OK to lie, even to a computer.

Want more incentive for your child? Explain that if they lie now, Facebook won’t let them correct their age later – and they will be stuck for life looking older than they really are on their Facebook profile.

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In The News: White House Launches Anti-Bullying Site; Facebook and Formspring Announce Anti-Bullying Capabilities

In the news this week, the White House launched a new anti-bullying web site called This site provides resources to teens, parents and teachers, to help educate and prevent the effects of bullying on the nation’s youth. The site was launched this morning, on the first day of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, by President Obama.

President Obama specifically cited the dangers of cyber-bullying, in his recorded message posted to Facebook. In the message, he said “We’re seeing how harmful [bullying] can be for our kids, especially when it follows them from their school to their phone to their computer screen.”

Facebook and Formspring Add New Anti-Bullying Capabilities

Timed in conjuction with the event, both Facebook and Formspring announced new features designed to combat cyber-bullying on their forums.

Facebook will offer “social reporting,” which will allow users to report offensive use of Profiles, Groups, Pages and Events. This adds to current capabilities which allow users to report offensive photos or Wall posts. Facebook also intends to offer educational videos and resources on cyber-bullying, along with teen discussion forums on the subject.

Formspring announced their work with MIT, to develop methods for detecting cyber-bullying behavior patterns in its forums.

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In The News: Cyberbullying Students Arrested But Not Charged in Fla

Students arrested last month, will not face criminal charges for making death threats against another student on Facebook. Instead, they will participate in a diversionary program which reportedly sets curfews and limits their use of the Internet – and “if they follow the rules, they won’t be charged.”

The diversionary program is part of Florida’s cyber-bullying law. We will watch this case, which should prove a good test of whether diversionary programs like this can help provide legal consequences more appropriate for teens than heavy fines, jail-time, and criminal records.

Many states, including New Jersey and Texas, are considering legislation for sexting which include lesser penalties for teens along with diversionary programs. Some diversionary programs being considered also require parents to attend education programs.