Mark Zuckerberg: Let The Under-13s Use Facebook

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes to get under-13s using his social networking site before long

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has sparked another controversy with his remark that children under 13 should be allowed to use social networking sites, citing educational benefits.

Speaking at a recent summit on innovation in schools in California, the 27-year-old billionaire mentioned his plan to “fight” for a lifting of the age limit, which currently prevents children under 13 from having a Facebook account.

“That will be a fight we take on at some point,” said Zuckerberg, adding children need to start their education “at a really, really young age”.

“Because of the restrictions we haven’t even begun this learning process. If they’re lifted then we’d start to learn what works,” explained the Facebook CEO.

Facebook is not educational but trivial

However, the question of whether the social network actually benefits early childhood education is contentious.

According to Peter Bradley, deputy director at children’s charity Kidscape, people rarely use Facebook for education, but rather for “trivial” activities.

“It is a huge concern that lifting the age limit is being considered,” Bradley told eWEEK Europe UK, explaining that children under 13 are not mature enough to identify the risks associated with social networks, such as cyber bullying or sexual abuse.

Although young children are already prone to cyber crimes, with or without Facebook, Bradley is certain that lifting the age limit will expose them to more dangers, considering Facebook’s popularity and the influence it has on young Internet users.

Lately, the social network has been linked to several crimes, particularly online bullying and ‘trolling’, where anonymous web users publish upsetting posts on online message boards so as to provoke outrage and distress.

Last year, 15-year-old Tom Mullaney reportedly committed suicide after being bullied on Facebook. Days later, his memorial page saw a posting under the name ‘Odette “Oph” Philly-Cross’ that read: “Why would you make an RIP page about someone that’s clearly a wimp?? That’s just embarrassing.”

Millions of under-13 Facebook users worldwide

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which is a US federal law, prohibits Facebook from collecting any personal information from users under 13 years of age. The same restriction is also applied in the UK under a voluntary ‘good practice’ code, to ensure children’s privacy and safety online.

“If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible,” reads Facebook’s privacy policy.

Warning and deleting profiles seems to be Facebook’s only measure to prevent under-13s from using its site. However, its policy does not stop these youngsters from faking their identity online.

Based on the the EU Kids Online report, published by the London School of Economics (PDF), one in five children in Europe aged between nine and 12 years old has a Facebook page. On an international scale, more than seven million under-13s manage to access the social networking site.

Moreover, the majority of these children do not inform their parents of their online activities, according to Bradley.

Launched in February 2004, Facebook reached over 500 million active users in July last year. “An average of 10,000 new websites integrate with the site on a daily basis,” according Facebook’ statistics.

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