Over the last few days I’ve been reading a number of articles about the changes to teenagers account over at Facebook. Â If you haven’t seen a report then have a look at this one from my local daily newspaper: Facebook faces backlash over children’s safety
This article argues that children will be exposed to more cyberbullying, damage the users digital footprint and expose them to more sexual predators. Â Possibly all true, in varying degrees of severity – time will tell. Â A worrying thought, but should we panic?
So why would Facebook do such a thing?
From my experience working with young people about their digital encounters, teens are using Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter more and more. Â All networks that, by default, are public. Â Facebook isn’t the young, cool place to be when it started when it opened it’s doors to university students in 2004-5. Â Admittedly nearly all of the young people I speak to have a Facebook account – but few of them actually use it.
I don’t use facebook – me Gran’s got facebook.
Facebook has lost the vast majority of teens to these other networks. Â Partly because they are more hip at the moment, partly because their parents aren’t members and might not even understand it, partly perhaps because they are public.
The people at Facebook may have gone out and acquired Instagram – but it’s not necessarily the data mining or revenue generating platform they desire. Â Facebook are desperately trying to encourage back the young users – who they need to attract for life. Â Treating them like adults – giving them the choice of public posts available elsewhere – may be one way to get those dormant accounts back.
Why are people so angry with Facebook?
Facebook has long told people like me that Facebook is the safest network for a number of reasons. Â Their real name policy, sophisticated privacy settings, reporting mechanisms and finally the additional safeguards place on 13-17 year old’s accounts. Â People are disappointed because they were told these measures would protect the kids in their care.
We must remember though that the 13-17 year old safeguards only helped if the user was honest about their age. Â Children who signed up when they were 11 and told Facebook they were 15 were in this same position – and receiving potentially inappropriate adverts – by the time they were 14 anyway. Â We really shouldn’t be surprised. Â Young people have been lying about their age to obtain alcohol and cigarettes for years, it’s no different for web services except that it is considerably easier to do.
So is it a big deal?
Privacy settings only help so much to hide users, to hide their ill thought out posts. Â I for one for a number of years now have been trying to convey the point that if the post isn’t suitable for your Granny to read – it shouldn’t be posted. Â Education as always, is key.
Privacy settings are only any good if you completely trust your network of ‘friends’. Â Anyone of those people could screenshot and re-share what you have said even if you think your settings are set just right.
Young people are posting, reposting, tweeting, retweeting and applying blue tinted filters to content every moment of every day on a huge range of social networks. Â Facebook may be the biggest by numbers, but I’d argue it’s not the most popular for UK teens in 2013, and I doubt it will be ever again.
So lets stay safe on all of the networks – assume everything is public.
The network may have changed their policy, but it shouldn’t change the message we teach our young people.
Think before you post – would you be happy if your dear old Granny read what you’ve posted. Would she cover her eyes on seeing that photo? Â Would that post help or hinder your future job prospects? Â Will your friend really think that is funny? What about your teacher?
Lets not forget public posts can have a positive twist on a person too. Â A positive post about something that makes a young person unique could do wonders for their university application. Â Young people should be building a positive profile for employers to find – something Linkedin has recently identified. Â If you are going to post publicly – post positive.
So lets spread the word. Â Privacy settings of today, may be gone tomorrow – everything online is public.
Teens, adults, children, Grannies – Be kind, be positive, be happy. Be the best you, you can be. Online and off.