3 experts and 2 parents have answered
When Facebook announced last week that it was to relax the rules around teenage privacy settings, parts of the media went into overdrive with scare stories. But surely it's down to families to be responsible for young people's web safety, not a commercial social network.
Following the change - which allows 13-17s to share photos, updates and comments with anyone on Facebook - some headline writers acted like it was the end of the world, claiming teens would be put at risk from paedophiles and strangers ready to cause them harm.
Of course, that's not the case at all. For a start, Facebook has actually increased teenagers' privacy at the default level. Before this option to share publicly was introduced, the default option for teenage statuses was to broadcast them to ‘Friends of Friends’. Now share only with ‘Friends’ is the default.
That means the option to now share any wider has to be actively selected by the young user and they are confronted by a warning about its consequences first.
But why rely only on that? Is it not up to you to talk to your teenager about the consequences of going public, rather than letting an electronic message do the parenting?
Facebook claim the move is a response to teens wanting their voices to be heard more widely. Facebook is a business. It needs to compete with other social resources and offer options some teenagers want.
When children are young, they are taught about stranger danger in the outside world. They are taught how to cross the road safely. Teaching them how to use social networking is no different.
You wouldn't just place a child at the side of the road without first telling them the Green Cross Code so why dump them in front of a social network without explaining the potential dangers of sharing their information openly?
It is crucial discuss social networks of all kinds, take time to learn about and explain their privacy settings and raise with the young person the pitfalls of sharing more personal information with a wider audience.
A report out yesterday makes this plain. It claims 18% of children aged nine to 11 have arranged meetings with friends they have made via the web.
What’s just as worrying is the number of parents and guardians who allow their children on Facebook before the stated sign-up age of 13.
Social media has a clue in its title. It's social, it's about sharing and learning from others and the technology now gives children the chance to crave attention in ways never thought possible.
If you wouldn't hand your teenager a condom without first having a frank conversation about sex, don't put your faith in technology to prevent them having a social accident.
Treat them like grown-ups and in the same way you'd advise them to respect other people, show them how to respect themselves on the social side of the web.
Add a comment
But of course.
Well, for many reasons Jonathan has smartly noted, parents should be responsible for their kids' privacy as well. But that doesn't mean Facebook can ignore this super important issue, just because "Facebook is a business". TV channels are a business too, and so are newspapers, yet, they take responsibility for the content broadcasted. They don't do it very well, but they still do.
Let's compare Facebook to Mc'Donalds for a second, and the digital world to the food industry. Mc'Donald earn more by selling burgers than healthy food, but still they presented salads to their menus few years ago. That has happened only after the world has spoken, asking McDonald's to take responsibility for what he is selling to us and to our kids.
Business owners should take social responsibility. Morally, but hopefully soon, even in a regulated way.
I've written about this issue in the recent October Wired Magazine issue. You are welcome to see a more detailed answer over there:
Add a comment
I agree that it's a step in the right direction to set the default as friends, and that it is parents' responsibility to ensure that their child appreciates what they are doing when they share material at whatever level. Where Facebook falls down is in its tendency to keep changing settings, without making it clear to users what is happening. You may think that all is well managed in your child's account, because you helped them set it up that way, but FB has in the past arbitrarily changed the rules. Assume nothing! In research we carried out recently, one in three girls had found that their privacy settings on FB had changed so that people could see more than they had intended. And fewer than half ever checked their settings.
Add a comment
See http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/51519 for the British Computer Society's view.
Add a comment
I suggest that Facebook changing the default to Friends is a way of encouraging younger users to seek a less restricted setting - and in looking for Friends of Friends they will also encounter the public option... whereas if the default had been left at Friends of Friends then many young people would have had no need to make a change so may not have seen the public option!