Facebook to allow under-13s?

A report in the U.K.'s Sunday Times says the company is considering allowing everyone onto its site. Can this possibly be true?

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

As if Facebook's employees didn't have enough to think about this weekend -- what with wondering what to wear to Saturday night's party that turned into a wedding -- reports from the U.K. made things even more stressful.

For the Sunday Times, leaning on a conversation with Facebook's head of policy in the U.K., Simon Milner, offered the headline: "Under-13s may be let into Facebook fold."

The Sunday Times quoted Milner as saying that Facebook was actively considering changing its policy, which currently tries to keep out under-13s.

He said: "A lot of parents are happy their kids are on [Facebook]. We would like to hear from people what the answer might be [in a debate on the issue]."

You will be stunned back to your youth to hear that Facebook is strenuously denying that there is any plan to change its policy.

A company spokesman told the Telegraph: "All we have said is what we have been saying for months -- that minors on Facebook and the internet is an important issue -- and we want to work with the broader industry to look at ways of keeping minors safe."

Naturally, one might conclude that it is Facebook's view that minors would be safer being on Facebook openly, rather than lying their way in and leaving themselves open to all sorts of unknown dangers.

Milner's statements, while not suggesting any imminent change of policy, surely lay open an obvious truth: that parents are actively encouraging their under-13s to be on the site. Indeed, recent stories emerging from both the U.K. and Australia reveal how deep the issue has become.

In the U.K. a school principal threatened to report parents who allow their under-13s on Facebook to child protection services. In Australia, a school principal threatened to expel under-13 Facebookers.

It seems evident that Facebook is tired of being the policeman of something that it cannot successfully police. It is too easy to lie on Facebook. And the company has never had (or, perhaps, wanted to have) enough manpower to enforce most of its policy rules.

Moreover, a year ago Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that he believes all kids should be on the site. The primary reason for this, in his view, is education.

At the time, Fortune quoted him as saying: "My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age."

He said that believed it would take some trial and error in order to learn "what works," before adding: "We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [under-13s] are safe."

Facebook doesn't have a supreme record when it comes to precautions. It has more of a record of encouraging everyone to post as much as possible and making all that information available to as many people as possible.

At the heart of this are parents. What Facebook is surely seeking is the support of more parents to make the idea of kids on Facebook seem more palatable.

The company is doing all it can to explain that it can't do very much. It appears that Facebook just wishes everyone else would accept what it sees as, perhaps, the inevitable: the whole world will be on Facebook.

Might as well be sooner rather than later.

 

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