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My six year old brother asked my mother a couple of weeks ago whether he was allowed to open his own Facebook account using our home computer. My mum’s response was an immediate, stern “No”, in light of his young age.
Yesterday however, she informed me that my sibling had ignored her reply, opening his own account regardless.
Even though he did spell his name wrong during sign up, missing the “H” key twice (“Marsell Mattews”) I was amazed that he had the computer skills to complete such a task! But technical capabilities aside, many parents would still argue that six is far too early an age for children to begin social networking – even if they are just using the platform to play games, as my brother claims is true in his case. Comments on the matter gathered from parents working in the Fresh Egg office included:
These comments (which strongly indicate that Facebook is far from being considered a safe haven for young children) do not sit comfortably with CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg’s recent contention that Facebook should be accessible by those under the age of thirteen. As an advocate for educational reform, Zuckerberg declared this view earlier in the week at the NewSchools education summit in California.
"Education is clearly the biggest thing that will drive how the economy improves over the long term [...] In the future, software and technology will enable people to learn a lot from their fellow students."
He then gave the example that Facebook could fuel study with the suggestion that students could see their peers learning online and this would in turn encourage users to do the same.
How this would work exactly is currently unclear (...you mean these kids won’t just waste time feeding chickens on Farmville and/or hijacking each other statuses?) but Zuckerberg is eager to challenge the current restrictions put in place by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which states that any website collecting data on their users – like Facebook - must not be accessed by those under the magic age of 13.
"If [the restrictions] are lifted then we'd start to learn what works. We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that [younger kids] are safe."
I would say this is quite an ironic statement considering that fact that the privacy of adult Facebook users is somewhat questionable and so it seems ridiculous to also promise this in respect to (potential) younger users!
We are living in an increasingly digital world. Whilst it is certain that technology will become gradually more central to educational endeavours in the future and that it is no doubt important for children to gain vital IT skills at an early age, it is my opinion that Facebook – or any social network -should not attempt to be at the forefront of this evolution.
As adults, we know all too well the amount of time that can be wasted prying into the lives of other people on Facebook, the majority of which we would not consider to be of any importance away from the networking platform. Should children be encouraged to indulge in such procrastination? No. Educational suggestions will not detract young users from the typical uses of the site.
It is also all too easy to begin seeing ourselves in the third person when using Facebook heavily, gaining a manufactured sense of self in the form of a profile page and carefully angled, flattering photographs. Several authors and psychologists have explored how this can fuel depression in users. Misery is rife in the lives of teenagers already (or so they would have you believe) and so subjecting them to this at an even earlier age won’t win you any parent points!
Children should be out playing and making friends in the real world...not online.