Speaking at a NewSchools Summit on educational innovation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that finding ways to improve children’s education is important to him—and he thinks getting children under age 13 on to Facebook could be a key step in that direction.
Currently, Facebook is barred from allowing children under 13 years of age from using the site by the U.S. Children’s Online Protection Act (COPA), enacted in 1998 as a way to help protect children from Internet predators and cyberbullying. However, many children under 13 lie about their age to set up Facebook accounts—Consumer Reports estimates as many as 7.5 million children under 13 are using Facebook, and a European study estimated 20 percent of European children between 9 and 12 are on Facebook.
Facebook emphasizes that it provides privacy and safety controls to enable users to protect their privacy, and the company has recently acknowledged that it shuts down about 20,000 accounts a day, many for being underage.
However, Zuckerberg noted that Facebook may be willing to work to have the Child Online Protection Act altered or overturned in an effort to bring Facebook’s educational possibilities to younger users. “That will be a fight we take on at some point,” the BBC, Fortune, and others quote Zuckerberg as saying. “My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age.”
Critics and privacy advocates note there are several dangers with young children using social networking services, including the risk of online bullying and, perhaps every parents’ worst fear, being targeted by sexual predators. Children often don’t understand the potential consequences of sharing information online, and may inadvertently make themselves and their families vulnerable.
Zuckerberg emphasized that, if the age restriction requirements were to change, his company would take “a lot of precautions” to ensure younger users were safe.
Zuckerberg has inflamed critics in the past declaring privacy is not a “social norm,” and Facebook has long been subject to criticism and litigation surrounding disclosure of personal information.