Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities require users of the social network to be at least 13 years old (and even older, in some jurisdictions). Millions of preteens use the service anyway: some get permission from their parents to create an account while others lie about their age to get past sign-up restrictions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wishes there was no limit in the first place.
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that websites that collect information about users (like Facebook) aren't allowed to sign on anyone under the age of 13. Zuckerberg wants this changed so that younger kids can be allowed on Facebook, in the name of education. While speaking at a NewSchools Summit in California this week, he outlined how educating kids about the Internet should start at a younger age, and by doing so, we can learn how to make the Internet a safer place for children.
"That will be a fight we take on at some point," Zuckerberg said according to CNN. "My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age. Because of the restrictions we haven't even begun this learning process. If they're lifted then we'd start to learn what works. We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe."
Two months ago, Facebook announced new safety resources and tools for reporting issues, in conjunction with a White House summit for preventing bullying. Last month, the company rolled them out:
- More Resources for Families: the Family Safety Center has been redesigned. There are now more resources, including useful articles for parents and teens and videos on safety and privacy. In the coming weeks, Facebook will also be providing a free guide for teachers, written by safety experts Linda Fogg Phillips, B.J. Fogg and Derek Baird.
- Social Reporting Tools: the new social reporting tool (Photo Gallery) allows people to notify a member of their community, in addition to Facebook, when they see something they don't like. By encouraging people to seek help from friends, Facebook hopes that many online issues which are a reflection of what is happening offline can be resolved face to face. This tool launched last month, but Facebook has now expanded it to other parts of the site, including Profiles, Pages, and Groups.
Less than two weeks ago, it was estimated that 7.5 million Facebook users are below the minimum age. To make matters even more worrying, more than 5 million were 10-years-old or younger.