Mark Zuckerberg: Let Children Younger Than 13 on Facebook
Maybe Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is feeling nostalgic about when he was 12 years old -- way back in ... 1996?
Wow! This kid really is a kid! No wonder he wants children to be on Facebook -- it was invented by children.
To be fair, even though he looked like Doogie Howser's younger brother, the boy billionaire was in college by the time he came up with Facebook. Still, despite all the geezers hanging out there these days, Facebook was created for young people by young people.
Now, at the wizened old age of 27, Zuckerberg wants to do away with Facebook's age limit. A lot of grown-ups, however, are none too keen on the idea. They worry about bullies, stalkers, scammers and the like -- not to mention the potential of giving children yet another level of mindless distraction.
"I would be very uncomfortable about extending this and I think it's very, very irresponsible of Facebook to be suggesting it," sniffs Claire Perry, a Conservative member of the British Parliament in an interview with the London Daily Telegraph.
"With close parental supervision all of these social networking sites can be interesting and enjoyable," she adds. "But I know from my own experience it is all too easy for a young child to get involved in situations that I think are really uncomfortable."
You have to be at least 13 to have a Facebook account under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Britain doesn't have such a law. However, Facebook's own terms and conditions mirror American law.
But, speaking at a summit on innovation education in New Jersey this week, Zuckerberg vows to challenge the law and change Facebook's rules -- at some point.
"My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age," Zuckerberg said at the summit. "Because of the restrictions, we haven't even begun this learning process. If they're lifted, then we'd start to learn what works."
Zuckerberg's critics point that it is pitifully simple to set up a Facebook account. You can set up a page for your toaster in less than five minutes -- complete with fake biography, email address and everything. Pedophiles have thus used the site to create aliases and lure children.
Laws such as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act are designed to stop online predators. Claire Lilly, the sexual abuse policy adviser for Britain's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, tells the Telegraph Zuckerberg is in the minority, and that most parents and lawmakers agree age limitations make sense.
"There have been great benefits brought by the Internet, but there online bullying is particularly prevalent on social networks," she tells the newspaper. "The information commissioner has said it is about the age of 12 when a child can understand the risks of handing over personal data and we would agree with that.
"We would like to see safety tools as prominent as possible, and social networks should be proactively trying to identify individuals who pose a risk, not just reacting to reports from children," she adds.
The Daily Telegraph reports Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre saw complaints about bullying and sexual stalking on Facebook quadruple in a 12-month period.
According to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million of Facebook's 600 million users are younger than 13 anyway. Apparently, a large number of under-age accounts were either set up by parents for children or without parents' knowledge.
"Recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the Internet, and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don't circumvent a system or lie about their age," a Facebook spokesman tells the Telegraph. "We agree with safety experts that communication between parents or guardians and kids about their use of the Internet is vital."
Related: Parents Increasingly Permissive in Letting Underage Kids Use Social Media
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.