Facebook has reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states whereby the social network will adopt more than 60 specific new measures to ensure that it keeps minors safe on its site.
Among other measures, requests by a user to change their own age will be scrutinized and recorded, and Facebook will only grant a single request by a user to change their own age above or below 18. So 16 year-olds who use Facebook will have more trouble pretending to 100. For more new measures, as well as those that the company already has in place, see below the article.
The announcement is quite a publicity coup for the attorneys general, as you can see from this list of articles that have been written about the news.
But the problem isn’t Facebook, or other social networks — it’s a lot bigger and more complex. Some children, for whatever reason, appreciate the attention of creepy older people they happen to meet online. A recent study showed most interaction between children and predators that ended in criminal activity happened with full knowledge of both parties about the other person’s age (older) and their intentions (sex). Among the findings, only five percent of perpetrators pretended to be teenagers. [Update: I’d like to hear from experts that show the threat of social networking, because here’s another article about experts saying the risk “of a child being forced into sex from an online predator is almost non-existent.”
This same group of attorneys has worked out a similar set of measures on MySpace, and it hopes to do the same for the entire web through better age identification technology, it says.
I totally agree that pedophilia is terrible and needs to be stopped, and I also recognize that social networks need to be responsible for the safety of their underage users. But Facebook has already been taking heat for this issue for years, and the company has already been proactive in implementing measures to prevent abuse. Examples: It already prominently displays a great deal of privacy information and it provides links all over its site to report objectionable material.
At this point, I question whether or not this new agreement will end up having any significant impact, or if it is rather only something that these attorneys general will point to as a “result” they got, the next time they go up for election. I’m not sure why the attorney general from Texas, Greg Abbott, didn’t sign on, but at least today he’s busy putting a repeat child abuser in jail and launching a web site to fight online identity theft.
Sample measures, including both measures that Facebook already has in place and that it plans to add, formally confirmed through the agreement:
- Age and identity identification tools
- Automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of giving personal information to an unknown adult
- Restricting the ability of users to change their listed ages
- Aggressive response to remove inappropriate content and groups from the site
- Safety and privacy guidelines that third party vendors and developers are required to adhere to as part of Facebook’s Terms of Service
- Immediate severance of links to pornographic websites
- Immediate removal of Facebook Groups dedicated to incest, pedophilia, cyber-bullying and other topics that violate Facebook’s Terms of Services
- Immediate investigation of Facebook users who violate the Terms of Service, and expulsion of those individuals that violate the safety or privacy of other users
- Prominent display of privacy information and safety tips
- Require users under 18 to affirm they have read Facebook’s safety tips when they sign up
- Review models for abuse reporting and perform a test using the New Jersey Attorney General’s abuse reporting icon
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