Sunday, February 19, 2012

Facebook and minors

Does your child or children have a Facebook account? If so, are they over the age of 13? Did you know Facebook specifically states that no child under the age if 13 is to be allowed on Facebook? Do you monitor your childs Facebook account and profile? Do you have the password? If you have a Facebook are you a friend of your child? All these are very important questions to ask yourself.

So many things are posted on Facebook and sometime things are posted about us or our children that we don't want posted. I recently was able to access some of my child's friends pages and see a video that had been posted and shared with over 20 other students. This video was very humiliating to my child and very upsetting to myself, siblings and other relatives. Did you know this can be classified as cyberbullying?

It is up to us parents to inform our children of the rules of Facebook and the privacy of others. What they may find funny may be very damaging to another child.

This also brings up another issue, the safety of themselves. If I can locate a complete strangers page and view all the contents on it then the privacy settings need to be changed. Especially if that person is a minor. There are some very dangerous and sick people in this world and it is up to us to limit their access to our children.

Here are some common rules that should be followed:
Facebook rules for teens

Here are some guidelines for parents of teens asking to be on Facebook. Similar guidelines apply to other social networking sites. This can be a starting point for discussing Facebook with your teen.

UPDATE: New concerns about Facebook

Several things have happened since these rules were written that have raised some new concerns about Facebook. These include:

The presence of advertisements in news feeds.
The fiasco with the "Beacon" feature automatically posting news about online shopping purchases. See for example this article in PC World.
The promotion of proxy-bypassing Facebook "unblocking" sites.
Consequently I am less optimistic about the long-term future of Facebook as a safe and wholesome place for teens to interact.

1. General comments

Facebook has a wide range of privacy settings available, and in general you want all the privacy you can get. Most of the horror stories about social networking involve kids making information public and/or making contact with strangers. The rules below are generally designed to avoid all contact with strangers. The key concept is to use Facebook only to interact with real personal friends.

I don't believe any part of the internet can be made safe enough to allow teens, particularly young teens, to browse around unsupervised. The rules below assume you are a parent who will take an active interest in monitoring your teen's online behavior. I strongly suggest that teens (and adults!) should always use some type of internet filtering, and that the computer they use to access the internet should be in a public place, not in their bedroom.

Lest you think this is paranoid, consider the following statement from the official Facebook terms:

We recommend that minors over the age of 13 ask their parents for permission before sending any information about themselves to anyone over the Internet.

Note that children under 13 are forbidden from using Facebook entirely.

Facebook has been making rapid and radical changes over the past year, some of them involving pricavy controls and some of them quite controversial. It can be difficult to know exactly how public your information is, so you want to assume the worst and limit the amount of personal information posted.

Facebook has been in the news recently because they in some cases don't guarantee that you can delete information you post. Apparently you can't ever delete your account, only "disable" it. And they admit they share a limited amount of information with third parties (particulary advertisers) regardless of your privacy settings. And some of your information gets automatically emailed, after which deleting it is no help. So be careful what you post!

2. Privacy settings

All your privacy settings in general should be set to "only my friends" or "no one". Check these pages occasionally to make sure nothing has changed. Note there are several privacy pages, and you need to check them all. Dangers from predators or other types of harassment go up significantly when your profile is public.

Who can find me in search: Only my friends or people in my network. Consider leaving this on "only my friends" except when you are trying to link up with a new friend who needs to search for you.
What people can do with search results: Disable viewing your friend list. Following friends of friends is in general discouraged.
News feed: If your other privacy settings are set to friends only, the settings here are not extremely important. But be nice to your friends and don't send them news feeds about everything. You especially don't need automatic news about changes to settings, etc.
Applications: Remove the events and marketplace applications. Don't add other applications without permission and don't browse the applications menu.
Block list and limited profile list. These are primarily for people with a public profile, so you can block a few select people and keep the information public to everyone. This is Facebook's answer to stalkers. However, you want your profile private to begin with. There is no point in blocking one of your friends - just remove them as a friend instead.
3. Profile

If your profile privacy settings are correct, these settings are not so crucial since only your friends can see the information. However, since privacy settings can be accidentally set wrong, it is safest not to put unnecessary personal information here.

Basic: Leave "interested in" and "looking for" unchecked (they will not show in your profile). Facebook is for interacting with your friends, not meeting strangers and building new relationships. Select "don't show my birthday" (this is a possible security risk).
Contact: Enter only email and screen name. Any of your friends can get any other information from you directly if needed. Don't risk making it public by accident.
Personal: These are empty boxes that can be filled with anything, so be careful that you don't accidentally put something here that you shouldn't make public. Remember that anything you say here can and might be used against you. Don't think you can just delete it later and no one will ever know, either. On the internet information has a way of getting passed around and becoming permanent.
4. Friends

One of your parents has a Facebook page and is your friend. This allows your parents to monitor what you do on facebook.
Only people who are true friends in real life can be your friends in Facebook (friends of friends don't count unless they are already a personal friend to you too).
Beware of spoof facebook pages, claiming to be someone they are not. Someone might do this to one of your friends as a "joke" and cause lots of confusion and trouble. This is one reason to interact only with true friends after you know it is their real facebook page.
Parents approve all of your friends, or at least reserve the right to disapprove friends just as they presumably will in real life.
Friends who use Facebook in a dangerous manner cannot be your online friends.
Assuming you will have to say no to some friend requests, think ahead about how you can kindly turn down these requests. Also, think about the possible awkwardness of removing someone from your friend list, and don't add lots of friends casually.
Recognize that there are many different kinds of friendship, but Facebook only recognizes friends or not friends (this is part of the risk of using Facebook). Don't put too much importance on whether someone agrees to be your Facebook friend or not.
5. Networks and Groups

Only join networks and groups that are real organizations or groups in real life. This includes generally only your school, home town, church, and other similar organizations. Do not join other online Facebook networks. Recognize that geographic groups like towns and states can contain some people you really don't want to be associated with. Recognize that any network, including your school, may contain imposters.
Get your parents' permission for any new networks or groups you join.
6. Places you go

Don't visit profiles of anyone except your friends. Facebook is for keeping up with your friends, not for browsing profiles of people who are not your friends. This includes friends of friends.
Don't browse new applications. Think of facebook as a place to exchange info with your friends, not a playground to goof off with strange apps like food fight. Any new app may have privacy risks you don't know about.
Don't search except for the purpose of finding your true friends to establish friend links with.
7. Features you don't use

Events - public announcements of events online is risky, unless they are really public events. You don't want strangers dropping in on your birthday party, do you?
Marketplace - this is probably not the best way for you to buy and sell stuff either. Selling stuff and maintaining privacy don't go together. Nobody should know about you on Facebook except your friends, and if you want to sell to them there are better ways.
8. Other

Your parents need to know your facebook password. They need to log in as you occasionally to understand how Facebook looks from your point of view.
Your parents agree not to change or make posts on your facebook page.This can be very embarrassing and defeats the purpose of Facebook. They access it for monitoring only, unless of course you post something really inappropriate.
You agree that if you misuse facebook, your parents can disable your facebook account.
(C) Bill Lovegrove, 2007-2008. All rights reserved.


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