Is 11 years old too young for Facebook?

From a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, Facebook and the rest of the Interwebs is a buzz with the question, “Is 11 years old too young for Facebook?” While there are those who welcome it with open arms, there are those that vehemently oppose it. My verdict? Let’s review the arguments!

1. Kids younger than 11 are already on Facebook
I can confirm this; I have seen my considerably younger family members send me friend requests and you have the phenomenon of new parents that setup accounts for their newborns (Sure they won’t be using it anytime soon, but they still have profiles). But could this be the solution? If you remove the fence, surely Facebook loses its ‘dangerous’ appeal. Currently, only children from the age of 13 are allowed to register, but lets face the facts - that doesn’t stop anyone, it only saves Facebook from potential liability.

Research from the 2011 Microsoft Research and Consumer Reports revealed that 7.5 million users are below the 13-year-old barrier and majority of them don’t inform their parents that they are on the platform. Bombshell right there.

2. But what is the point of Facebook for children?
This was a tough question. What is there besides the Farmville-like games for kids? Facebook is a great social calendar but an equally great stalking tool. Is this something we want to expose our children to? Probably not the best idea.

James Steyer, CEO of the advocacy group Common Sense Media, echoes my sentiments. He said that there is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13. Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of children.

3. Stricter rules of engagement
Facebook already has watertight rules when it comes to brand’s engaging with younger users, we can only hope that there will be stricter rules for the even younger ones. For example, they could have an advertising free experience, with an account that could be linked to their parents who will be able to accept their Friend Requests, and Pages will have to add age barriers beyond the alcoholic brands that currently have to apply to this.

Above and beyond this, there is a lot of intelligence and perhaps maturity required from anyone who ventures in to engage with the unknown. Kids might not always have the common sense not to post private and personal information about themselves, their locations or their schedules on a platform where it is easily accessible by various elements of the criminal underbelly. As much as parents may appreciate their child’s naïveté, it’s not a characteristic that will save them from the malicious material (or people) out there.

There are many arguments for and against this move. But is there official word from Facebook? Not quite. They skirted around the issue, they say, “Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services. We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”

I don’t have children yet, so personally I don’t see a problem with them accessing Facebook. The only difference with Facebook allowing it, is that there will be rules in place to protect the children, and then its up to the parents to choose if their children are allowed to create their own profiles, though some of these parent may also be oblivious to the dangers out there and may want to check in with groups such as Common Sense Media to get some insights and direction on how to protect their kids online.

When I have kids, feel free to make me read this again, it would be interesting to see if I’ve changed my opinion.