How old do you have to be to use Facebook? A simple question, but as is often the case, a simple question can have a complicated answer. In the Facebook terms and conditions of use it says:
In order to be eligible to sign up for Facebook, people must be 13 years of age or older.
This is reitereated in the more lengthy terms of rights and responsibilities in section 4, article 5:
You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.
So thats sorted then.
Or is it?
In an attempt to gain even more users, facebook is working on technology that would allow children to use Facebook under parental supervision. Potental methods could include linking children's accounts to parents, and controls that would allow parents to decide who their children can count as a friend.
But there are other potential risks in letting children use social media - for example, exposing children to inappropriate advetising. or inadvertantly letting children access to videos and imagery which could be harmful.
According to research by minormonitor, 38% of kids on facebook are already underage. More concerning is that it is reported that 4% of children on facebook are 6 years old or younger.
Controlling access to social media and online content is a real headache for parents. It's very easy for an unsupervised child be exposed on the internet that 10 years ago there would be very little chance of them encountering in normal life. Event with the best parental controls, you cannot guarentee that a facebook friend which they think they know is not really a spoofed account. There are frequent cases of cartoons and childrens videos being uploaded to youtube which have been modified to include porn or graphic scenes of death inserted in the middle of them. Parents seldom sit down with their kids the whole time they are on the internet.
I think that encouraging children to use the internet safely is a good thing. Having safe social networks (eg by having small ones which only their school has access to) is good experience for using social networks in the future, but letting kids into the world of facebook too young is dangerous and unnecessary. would you let your 6 year old talk to anyone at the school gates? even if they said that they knew one of their friends? I wouldn't. Thats the real world equivalent of letting children use facebook without supervision.