Facebook’s Still Debating Whether or Not to Let in Your 12-Year-Old; Are You Still Concerned?

By: Josh Wolford - July 18, 2012

I’m 27 years old.

Actually, I’m not 27 years old. I’m 26 years old. I just lied on the internet! And trust me, it really is so easy that a preteen can do it.

And they do – all the time. Although Facebook’s current policy plainly prohibits anyone under the age of 13 from operating an account on the site, most reports put the number of preteen Facebook users in the millions. In fact, if a kid is on Facebook (under 18), there’s about a 2 in 5 chance that they are actually under the age of 13. Other reports, acknowledged by Facebook themselves, show that over half of parents with a 12-year-old child say that he/she has a Facebook account.

Do you think that Facebook is safe for kids under 13? If not, do you think it can be made safe with certain limitations and parental controls? Let us know in the comments.

Facebook says that they do all they can to identify and remove underage accounts – but it’s obviously one of the largest games of whack-a-mole ever. Close one down, five 11-year-olds log on in their place. Facebook removes somewhere around 20,000 underage accounts a day, and there’s still over 7.5 million under-13 accounts active on the site.

It doesn’t take the world’s most adept mathematician to see that this is a fight that’s going to be really hard to “win” with a simple ban. It’s clear that simply requiring age verification will never keep young kids off of Facebook. The site’s simply too popular. Everyone, including 10, 11, and 12-year-olds now require the social connectivity that it can provide.

Facing the evergreen problem that is trying to police all of these underage accounts, it shouldn’t shock anyone that Facebook is considering a new approach. Just over a month ago, we heard that the company was mulling over the idea of opening up the site to kids under the age of 13. We heard that Facebook’s “if you can’t beat them..” strategy would have preteen accounts closely monitored by parental controls – which would work in correlation with the safeguards that Facebook already has in place regarding minors’ privacy.

If they’re going to do it anyway, we may as well have them do it under proper supervision, right?

Early concerns

If we believe the stats, the majority of parents with 12-year-olds know that their kids are on Facebook. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are cool with it. Once the news of Facebook’s possible shift in age restrictions, people seemed to come out of every conceivable corner of the outrage circuit to voice their opinions.

And who can blame concerned parents? Facebook (and social communication in general) can be a minefield for older teens and even adults – and most people’s natural inclination is to protect young children at all costs. All a parent has to hear is one nightmarish story about child predation and subtle manipulation on Facebook, and the negatives of social networking immediately outweigh any positives. And although Facebook horror stories aren’t so commonplace as to become routine, there are still enough floating around to engender some concern.

To some parents, no amount of control or guidance would make them feel truly comfortable with opening up their preteens to the risks – either external or internal.

In one of the first major addresses of Facebook’s possible plans, nearly a dozen consumer groups sent a joint letter to Mark Zuckerberg. That letter contained some “demands” for any scenario where Facebook opens up the service to kids under 13.

Although the groups mentioned parental controls, and increased privacy for preteen members, their main point involved ads on the site – in that there shouldn’t be any when it comes to kids:

[T]he company’s business model relies, at its very core, on data collection, ad targeting, and viral marketing, and many of its practices have generated public and government privacy concerns. If Facebook opens itself up to a younger audiences, we want assurances that any space created for children under the age of 13 on the site is safe, parent-guided and controlled, and, most importantly, free of ads (including the range of practices that are routinely employed through social media marketing).

Congressional pressures and the evolution of Facebook responses

When the rumors began to fly concerning Facebook’s possible age-shift, the company was unsurprisingly unspecific about their actual thought process. Upon the initial reports, Facebook told me that they were “in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”

After the letter from the privacy groups, Facebook started to say that they were open to suggestions:

Enforcing age restrictions on the Internet is a difficult issue, especially when many reports have shown parents want their children to access online content and services. We welcome today’s recommendations by consumer, privacy, health and child groups as we continue our dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.

Now, thanks to a newly-released letter from Facebook to two Congressmen, we know that Facebook is still thinking about it, but are a ways away from a final determination.

“At this point, we have made no final decision whether to change our current approach of prohibiting children under 13 from joining Facebook,” said the company.

That’s just a blip in a much-longer letter that the company sent Republican representative Joe Barton and Democratic representative Ed Markey. The two House members sent Facebook a letter back in early June outlining their concerns regarding the protection of kids on the site.

Facebook’s response mirrors many responses the company has had to questions raised by concerned parties. For one, they reiterate that any decision they make will be mindful of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law that Facebook has formally addressed in a highly detailed fashion. The bulk of the response involves Facebook talking about their current features that promote safety for minors, in lieu of having yet made any actual decisions on the sub-13 crowd.

Facebook actually does do a lot, already

In addition to the everyday privacy controls that all Facebook users have access to, the company already has an admittedly impressive set of features in place that are designed to protect the network’s younger crowd.

  • For instance, Facebook users aged 13-17 have different sharing settings, by default, than those users who are 18+. A minor’s sharing capabilities are limited to friends and friends of friends – no more. Also, if you’re not a friend of a friend of a minor, it’s physically impossible for you to send them a direct message.
  • In a more controversial move, we recently learned that Facebook is actively monitoring the millions and million of chats and messages between their 900+ million users. Why monitor chats, you may ask? Because Facebook is always on the lookout for suspicious behaviors. And their software scans communications all across the network, looking for possibly criminal activity. That, of course, includes inappropriate conversations between minors and possible predators. Facebook’s monitoring software works in two distinct ways. First, it puts more weight into focusing on conversations between members who aren’t especially connected in any significant way – few mutual friends, new friendships, etc. Second, the message scan can identify certain words and phrases that could signal illicit communications. As a Facebook user, you can raise concerns about privacy and the legality of this sort of monitoring – and your concerns would be legitimate. But from a protecting kids standpoint, it’s hard to argue that this sort of technology is of great benefit.
  • Facebook also bans sex offenders from participating in the network – outright. So do many states as well, although these laws are currently begin challenged by free speech activists as we speak.
  • As a company that’s put a lot of effort into anti-bullying campaigns (having even been recognized for their work), Facebook says it’s a priority to keep users, especially minors, safe from harassment. Just recently, Facebook made a few tweaks to their reporting mechanisms to help in that effort. Now, when minors feel threatened by a particular post, the “report” procedure has been softened and made a bit more conversational and inviting. For instance “report” will be replaced with “This post is a problem.” After clicking, teens will be walked through the process with scenario-specific questions.

But is it enough?

“Children are not commodities, and their personal information should not be harvested to yield ad revenue for Facebook and its hungry shareholders,” said Rep. Markey, co-author of the letter to Facebook. “The privacy of personal information for pre-teens should not become a post-script in Facebook’s drive for profits.”

Even if Facebook opened up the network to preteens and did so by giving parents granular control over all aspects of their experience, would it be enough to assuage the concerns of many? Even after knowing that Facebook is actively trying to protect young kids from seedy situations online, does it do anything to make you feel comfortable with the thought of your 10-year-old browsing their News Feed?

The advertising issue may be just as potent of an issue as privacy and safety. Both the consumer groups and the Congressmen made ads their front and center complaint.

You could argue that children are inundated with ads all the time – television, movies, etc. Hell, walk into a toy store and you’ve basically just put your kid in the middle of a giant advertisement for various products. How can parents think that targeted ads on Facebook are any more dangerous than a targeted ad on the Sunday morning cartoons?

Or on a site like YouTube?

But it’s clear that something about Facebook ads clearly rub people the wrong way – especially when it comes to children.

What are your biggest concerns in allowing your preteen to operate a Facebook account? Do you think that Facebook is doing/will do enough to protect minors on the site? Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

View all posts by Josh Wolford
  • Ellen

    I think facebook should be allowed to 12 year olds. They’re as mature as 13’s and know the same things. Its just how long you’ve been alive anyway. 12 year olds are, in some ways, better than 13’s. As most havent hit puberty which makes them less moody for a fight. 12’s should be allowed on Facebook, their the same as 13’s!

  • Pam Alderton

    I read this article with interest. I certainly don’t think that children under the age of 13 should be using Facebook though I know of many who are. I also find it quite ironic that Facebook say that they ban sex offenders from the network. I personally have informed Facebook of one known registered sex offender who has a Facebook account and uses it daily but nothing has been done by them to revoke his account. To me this is extremely worrying.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      Facebook puts some of the burden on users to identify instances of terms violations. You can report any account of a suspected sex offender.

  • Daniel Mahoney

    Keeping our kids safe on the Internet is our responsibility, not the responsibility of site operators. If we don’t want our 12 year old kids on Facebook, it’s up to us to keep them off.

    • http://n/a STEVE ROSS


      THANKS ,

      • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

        You don’t think 18 is a little high to set the age limit?

        • http://facebook.com Mark Norwood

          Blame the asswipe Zuckerberg for all that dumb ass shit/Hell he said he thought all facebook users were dumb it’s too bad they didn’t have Eisenberg repeat it in The Social network.

  • stu

    Facebook has always been an adult site with comments post of a graphic nature. What about children who’s perants are not good with computers and dont have a facebook account. Where is the control for them

    last year faceboom refused to put an alert button on. They stated it is not our job to police the site.

    There are alternatives. My Chat developed by my safe search. http://www.mychat.mysafesearch.co.uk is.a social network developed for children. Backed and monitored by the nspcc. They work with the nspcc, ceop and iwf. There site is monitored and policed 24 hours a day and have very strict securty in place.

    They are funded by donations and run as non profit. Maybe we should support those that are trying to help.

    They designed a child safe search engine and now a social network safe for children. They where backed at the internet watch sumit in london this year.

    They get my donation and i have donated. Maybe more should be done to help them

  • Lori Smith

    I think preteens flock to facebook because there are no other options for them. My advice to facebook is: If you can’t beat them, join them. Create a site just for kids that parents can set up and monitor through daily logs of their Childs conversations, approval required for posting photos, and only g rated access. I am sure there is a safe way for kids to be able to enjoy online interaction that is better than all the unknowns of the current version of FB for adults,

    • http://www.quoteyoutoday.co.uk/ Matt

      Can’t you do this if you set their account up for them anyway? You have their login details so you can check their account whenever you want to, and you make sure they friend your account so you can keep tabs via your own account too.
      Besides, if you never let them use a home PC in private, there’s very little chance of them getting involved in anything wayward, and it teaches them that anything they say on the internet can be read by anyone, thus hopefully instilling some anti-troll etiquette

  • http://www.halifaxhomes.org Freeman Hall

    Is Facebook, or for that matter, the internet really safe for anyone? There are predators and con artists everywhere. We are responsible for our own actions and everyone (not just those under 12) must be vigilant. Parents cannot necessarily control their children but they should educate them and keep a watchful eye. No service provider can or will ever take the place of a caring guardian.

  • Nanette

    I have an 11 almost 12 year old son and he is not on facebook. The only way i would let him is if i could open his account under mine and everything he tries to post, is posted to his wall, or he sees in his newsfeed comes to me for approval first. Then as he gets older i would like the ability to change the settings.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      That’s most likely what Facebook has in mind – some sort of parental controls that give them full access to their kid’s account.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

      Your suggestion is about the only way it could work effectively.

      Not that it is likely to happen though although I don’t know why.

      It would somewhat reduce the spontaneity of communicating on Facebook but don’t most kids need a ‘buffer’ or almost to the point of a muzzle anyway?

      It would, however, put a heck of a lot of work on to the parent to keep a child’s account updated reasonably but as far as effective technical solutions go, it’s about the only one that exists.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/justsayingmypiece/ Charlie

    Well, for one thing, I think Facebook’s responsibility is to provide equally to any and all who are “legally eligible” to have access to such commodities.

    If FB discriminates against certain groups or segments of society in ways which are clearly against existing laws for such things, won’t they be held accountable for that? They need a kid’s FB site all by itself, I think.

    I’m just sayin’…

  • John

    I think you should be 16yo at least.

  • http://www.parleji.com ss


  • Betty L Johnson

    I don’t think anyone under the age of 18 should be allowed on Facebook. Period. These are the ones that the sex-offenders are seeking..and find. If it’s so simple to ‘lie’ about one’s age and register using a false age, then THAT is Facebook’s problem and should be corrected. If minors can do this, then registered sex-offenders can register, using false information as as well. The ‘Honor-system’ doesn’t work, you know.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      18 seems a bit high. So you’re saying teens should be able to drive before they can create a Facebook account?

      • http://www.quoteyoutoday.co.uk/ Matt

        There’s a very, very, very simple way of dealing with this. You simply don’t let them have their own computer, in their own room. If they’re facebooking or whatever in the same room as yourself, (the kitchen, the living room, wherever), it’s relatively easy to keep tabs on what’s going on and you can deal with any predatory/bullying issues immediately and nip them in the bud.

      • Stephanie

        No, 18 is absolutely the right age. Perverts like children, and a 14 year old is no less tempting than a 12 year old. How can FB guarantee that a pervert doesn’t get a pic of a child, sign up as a child, and friend MY child? Parents should be responsible for knowing ALL of their child’s friends, of course, but things happen fast on the internet and a parent can’t always keep up.

        Of course my solution makes it easy. All sex offenders should be decapitated. Then they can’t go on fb.

  • bill

    Facebook is a waste of time. Facebook is a voluntary surrender of you privacy to corrupt individuals. Only morons use Facebook.

  • http://www.dat.pcriot.com Will

    I work in the IT industry, and have had people call me for help because they could not log into their FB account. I have not had any requests from business or home users to restrict the use of FB. I question the ability of any type user account controls can counter that kind of desire to FB.

  • http://www.fastfwd.co.za Annemarie

    I enjoyed the article, thank you.
    I have been amazed at the number of invites I have received from schoolchildren (children of acquaintances or friends) that are 10 or 11 years old. They are clearly pretending to be older anyway to be able to register. If it can work that way around, what is stopping a 35-year old from pretending to be 13 or 14?
    I agree with Nanette: my 11-year old is not allowed to use Facebook, but if there would be more controls, and I will have to be convinced that they work, I will insist that I monitor all posts.
    Matt’s point is also very valid: although i do believe that we all have to make sure our children are safe and cared for, it is in the end the parents’ responsibility to have rules in place to protect their children. too many parents pass this responsibility to the state/the school, and now Facebook

  • cj

    It is not safe even for kids over 13, never mind under 13, with all the trash and predators around these days. If parents are not watching close enough these sites are not safe. Plain and simple.

  • http://www.andykuiper.com Andy Kuiper

    12 and under are too young for FB. There just isn’t enough protection from online predators… even the older kids are getting duped: no way the younger kids should be ‘potential’ victims.

  • ananon-a-mouse

    OMG! you lied on the internet! Right up there with crime against humanity.

    To keep children safe, I think they should be locked in a closet with some UV light for Vitamin D production and fed through a pyramid shaped hole in the door. Each meal should duplicate the USDA pyramid and be stacked exactly like the government one and color coded with USDA approve food color additives! Don’t let them out until they are 18.

    They should have a hamster wheel to run on to generate the electricity they need to watch Only approved TV, though perhaps to make sure they will be good and productive members of society they should only allowed to watch ads, though perhaps after the age of 12 we could add in Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and Dr. Phil for a well rounded character development program.

    Serially, if parents don’t be no good at teechin ther chillins those chillins should grow up to be victims, some of whom grow up to be criminals and the rest to be in law enforcement just like today. Now America leads the world in locking people up (to make them free) and you and your lying @ss have committed a criminal off fence. You should surrender to authorities immediately!

    Until the FBI et al rounds these lying children up and places them in maximum security prisons run by the criminally insane, no one will be safe.

    If I had a heart, I be having heart palpitations. Fortunately, I took the Dick Cheney Be a Heartless B@stard Killing for Jesus Program and I am inoculated with my righteous indignation.

    Watch out! You should be very afraid. They are coming to get you right now.

    • On the kids side

      You have one sick mid you no what i have to nock nock get out of the closet

  • Blumo

    I don’t think anyone under the age of 18 should be allowed on Facebook. Period. These are the ones that the sex-offenders are seeking..and find. If it’s so simple to ‘lie’ about one’s age and register using a false age, then THAT is Facebook’s problem and should be corrected. If minors can do this, then registered sex-offenders can register, using false information as as well. The ‘Honor-system’ doesn’t work, you know.

  • http://www.athletespower.com/ Capry

    Facebook is a waste of time. Facebook is a voluntary surrender of you privacy to corrupt individuals. Only morons use Facebook.

    • On the kids side

      i’m aperently a moron who went to Stanford!!!

  • McGruff SafeGuard

    If you want complete parental control that records everything children do online (including Facebook) , and filters nasty websites, and does linguistic analysis detect dangerous behavior –
    such as online predators or cyberbullys –
    check out McGruff SafeGuard’s Parental Control software:

    You probably remember McGruff “The Crime Dog” – Take A Bite Out of Crime – from your youth.

    For FREE iPad/iPhone parental control, check out http://www.GoMcGruff.com/browser

  • http://fronterahouse.com John

    Not sure how 12 became their magic number but, no, it does not engender confidence. One solution might be for only a very limited amount of personal information could be entered for anyone under the age of majority. If it can’t be entered it can’t be exploited.

  • http://www.hiszpanskamucha.com/ TanjaSznuk

    I agree there is not a big difference between 12year olds and 13year, but I think Facebook shouldn’t be allowed to anyone under 15 or even 16. There are many reasons, first and the most important is people’s accounts and even public profiles are full of vulgarisms and offensive statements. Second thing is you can see a lot of animal cruelty there, even if it is often related to all kinds of organizations saving animals, I don’t think such young people should see it all. I am not just saying it, I have seen it. My 13 year old cousin has a Facebook account and things his peers are posting to each others walls sometimes seriously shock me. I realize we can’t change nowadays’ teenagers, but Facebook is making so many things reachable for them, not all of them are appropriate for such young people.

  • Sheila Perry

    Yes, I am. Just one more thing I’ve got to monitor. It’s tough enough to be a parent. Why are you making it more difficult for me!
    A parent

    • On the kids side

      What are you darn crazy I got mine the moment I woke up on my thirteenth b-day.
      Don’t be so harsh give the kids a chance to take resposibility for them selves my 11 year old daughter knows what is right and wrong. If you are so worried about kids Be a better parent and teach your kids something. If your not a parent get off the comment blog.

  • http://fedextoyourdoorcash.blogspot.com billy zeke

    NO NO and NO ! No kids should ever be allowed on F Book until they are at least 18 years old !

    WE have enough chat sites allowing predators to get to young girls !

    Face book don’t care about users safety ! They only care about one thing and thats $$$$$ ! Period the end !

    • On the kids side

      What are you darn crazy I got mine the moment I woke up on my thirteenth b-day.
      Don’t be so harsh give the kids a chance to take resposibility for them selves my 11 year old daughter knows what is right and wrong. If you are so worried about kids Be a better parent and teach your kids something. If your not a parent get off the comment blog.

  • jwlow62@bellsouth.net

    It’s up to the parents whether or not their 12 year old gets on facebook, not facebook.

  • grossology

    12’s are like 13’s so it dose not matter if u put it down to 12 i think they should and i know a school were every grade 6 under 13 has facebook and some that dont because wait u know what they should just do what instagram does because would not instagram be worst because they add pics and comment at least facebook u can block them

  • Hannah

    I think it’s fine if a 12 year old has a Facebook.

  • molly

    I think it should be twelve in under!
    Now I’m not saying I will let my kid go on at 12 when the law says 13 but I think it is ok for 11 or 12 year olds.

    • molly

      To add on it could be grads like 6th and below

  • Anonymous

    There are some under-13 kids, that are smart to know what to post and not. Some are smarter then they think. I think its rude to some kids how they know a lot of things, and they are blocked. I think most sites do not allow kids 13-under, and so most kids cannot do anything unless they lie.