Under 13s on Facebook?

A recent statistic shows that 7.5 million Facebook users are below 13. What’s more is a whopping 5 million are under 10.  At the same time, Ofcom’s (in the UK) study shows that the increase of 5 to 7 year olds using Facebook has grown from 7% to 23% from 2009 to 2010.

And this just in: Zuckerberg is ok with it.  In fact, he thinks that under 13s should be allowed on Facebook.

Whether they are allowed or not, the under 13s are already there.  Considering how vulnerable they are at such young ages as 5, I find myself cringing on an ethical level about them being exposed to advertising on Facebook and having access to a world that could be potentially dangerous for them.

Yet, at the same time, 5 year olds have always been exposed to and targeted by advertising.  It isn’t a new thing.  Television advertising has even stronger messages, I’d say, than a tiny thumbnail on the side of your Facebook profile.  Then again, what I’m not too comfortable with is that their information is being collected, and so are their pictures.  That aside, in terms of what is happening in younger age groups with cyberbullying right now – this age group is not prepared to go online and talk to anybody.  Since when have parents let their 5-year-olds talk to strangers in the streets?  And now Facebook’s safer than the streets?  At least on the street the child sees who they are talking to.

Also, in the school yard or at school, there is a higher likelihood that young children will understand when someone is being mean and bothering them – and may choose to report it to their teachers or bring it up when talking to their parents.  Yet, are they old enough to be able to discern what a “mean” comment is online?

Does Facebook know what a “mean” comment is online?  Take a look for yourself.

Yet, how do we prevent cyberbullying and encourage “cyber safety” regardless of whether under 13s are allowed on Facebook or not?  Something needs to be done about this.  Filtering software and “suggestions” as to how to “stay safe online” aren’t enough.

I’m finding that there are many tried-and-true programs, educational models, and curricula to address bullying, but there’s hardly anything for cyberbullying.  I have developed and am in the process of developing my own curricula for cyberbullying, and the evaluation results have been fantastic to date.  Yet, I’m lacking information on cyberbullying-related educational programs that have shown long term effects.

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