It has been rumored that Facebook is going to allow children under the age of 13 to become legal members of the social media site. It is estimated that there are already 7.5 million underage current users of the service. Approximately 1% of all Facebook users. There are groups out there like the Consumers Union, The Center for Science in the Public Interest and Children Now that are opposed to such actions. Their fear is twofold:
These children will be advertised to and will be unduly influenced by these ads because they are too young to discern advertising
Predators that prey on underage children will use Facebook to easily satisfy their urges.
Obviously Facebook is entertaining lowering the age limit in order to increase their revenue streams and introduce a new and lucrative demographic to sponsors. With the currently “floundering” of it’s stock price and concern over decreased time spent on the site in certain demographics Facebook is on the search for new profit centers.
Since the beginning of media there has always been advertising attached to it. In the old radio days serials like “Little Orphan Annie” and “The Shadow” were sponsored by products and brands. Many of them directed at children. All content must be paid somehow and social media is no exception. Even with the strictest of limits we still find a way to circumvent the roadblocks – as evident by the current 7 million underage users.
These children are not naive. They live in a social and on-demand society. My seven year old girl asks to see commercials because they are like funny short stories to her that she usually doesn’t see because she watches things off the DVR, Hulu, YouTube or Netflix. Television shows already advertise to kids as it is. She is very aware of advertising purpose and is almost immune to its tricks. She knows this because her mother and I have explained it to her – as we both work in media and marketing. She knows there are limits to our consumption and that fast food is bad for you – even with the healthy alternatives – because it’s high in salt and fat. Sugary cereals are not as good for you as oatmeal and that movies about toys are there to sell toys and that they can also entertain.
It was also noted that Facebook will only allow these kids’ information be seen by friends, thus alleviating some concerns regarding predators. Very different than those who sign up illegally and can be seen by a wider circle. Again the conversation with kids would be helpful as well. Same seven year old daughter informed me that if she ever made friends with people online she would have me bring her to the meeting to make sure it’s a kid she is meeting and not a creepy adult trying to steal her. I can only hope my talk with her about boys and sex goes so well.
In other words these modern kids are or can be mature enough to understand the dangers of social media… We just can’t think that shielding them from it is going to be the answer.