Often a person’s online identity is created at the time of (or even before) their birth. Parents’ eagerness to share the good news leads to Facebook statuses that include the baby’s name, Pinterest boards dedicated to photos of a child, or Instagram photos hashtagged with a child’s nickname. This imprint on the Internet can be a permanent timeline, can be very difficult to undo, and can unintentionally risk a child’s privacy.
In a Parents.com article, Jo Webber, Ph.D., notes the permanent nature of publishing information on the Internet that could be shared by anyone.
“Parents should talk to their kids and get them to understand that once [privacy is] gone, it’s gone. You don’t know who’s getting that information on the other end,” Dr. Webber says.
This is equally true for parents. “Whatever you put out there on social media about your kids, think about whether you’d be happy if everybody had that information,” Dr. Webber advises.
Kids and Facebook
Parents hold the keys to the Internet for their children. The introduction of web-connected devices, monitoring of social media apps and granting of permission for participating in social networking online are all foundations of a child’s digital life over which parents have control. Facebook requires that children reach 13 years of age before opening an account, but parents often allow kids to get Facebook accounts at an earlier age.
CNN reported a 2011 Consumer Reports survey found 7.5 million people younger than 13 use [Facebook]; nearly a third of 11-year-olds and more than half of 12-year-olds with their parents’ knowledge.
“Whether we like it or not, millions of children are using Facebook, and since there doesn’t seem to be a universally effective way to get them off the service, the best and safest strategy would be to provide younger children with a safe, secure and private experience that allows them to interact with verified friends and family members without having to lie about their age,” Larry Magid writes at Forbes.com.
After applying in 2012, Facebook recently (June 2014) obtained a patent that would allow kids under 13 to join the site with parental permission. The Guardian reports that:
“The parent would first have to verify their own identity, followed by their relationship with the child before allowing the creation of a child’s account. Parents would then have parental controls tools to restrict access to certain content, friends and third-party applications…Child accounts would also have strict privacy controls privacy and permissions, allowing parents to approve certain actions.”
Internet Laws Protecting Children’s Privacy
There are several laws designed to protect the online identities of children. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law that prohibits U.S. companies from collecting personal information from children under 13 years of age, and currently an amendment, the Do Not Track Kids Act, is pending, which would add the inclusion of teens between the ages of 13-15. The legislation also provides for an “eraser button” that would grant teens and their parents more control over online information gathering. Facebook’s new policy allowing kids under 13 years old to join the site would have to be compliant with COPPA before implementation.
Teens and Social Media
It’s no secret that teens participate in social media regularly, often bouncing between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Kik, Snapchat and other apps multiple times a day. While it’s usually adults who report social media burnout, is it possible that even teens are getting tired of scrolling through endless feeds?
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (epic.org) notes that teens actually desire more online privacy:
According to the report, only 11% of teens currently share “a lot about themselves online” – a 7% decrease from the same age group last year. By contrast, 17% of young adults aged 19 to 24 and 27% of adults aged 25 to 34 currently share “a lot about themselves online.” The report also indicates that “about 18% of teens share content on social media at least once a day, including status updates, photos, pins, or articles, compared with 28% of 19 to 24-year-olds and 35% of 25 to 34-year-olds.”
Effects of Social Media Profiles
Kids who think social media can’t impact their lives in meaningful ways are sadly mistaken, as often college acceptance and job security are directly on the line. Forbes posted an article about what college admissions don’t like seeing on social media profiles, reporting a rise in Internet searches by admissions officers:
“While the percentage of admissions officers who took to Google (27%) and checked Facebook (26%) as part of the applicant review process increased slightly (20% for Google and 26% for Facebook in 2011) from last year, the percentage that said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant’s chances of getting into the school nearly tripled – from 12% last year to 35% this year. Offenses cited included essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, things that made them “wonder,” and “illegal activities.” In 2008, when Kaplan began tracking this trend, only one in 10 admissions officers reported checking applicants’ social networking pages.”
This CNN article lists ten real-life people who list their jobs as a direct result of social media postings. Not only can what a person says or does get him or her fired, so can their actions on social media. In the CNET article “Facebookers, beware: that silly update can cost you a job,” we learn:
“According to a new report, turning down young job candidates because of what they post on social media has become commonplace. The report, by On Device Research, states that 1 in 10 people between ages 16 and 34 have been turned down for a new job because of photos or comments on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social networking sites.
‘If getting a job wasn’t hard enough in this tough economic climate, young people are getting rejected from employment because of their social media profiles and they are not concerned about it,’ On Device Research’s marketing manager Sarah Quinn said in a statement.”
Best Practices for Establishing an Online Presence
At socialmediatoday.com, consultant Joellyn Sargent lists a few tips to help people remember the importance and permanence of their online profiles:
– “People are watching (That creepy guy at the mall? Yep, he’s online and he can read your Twitter stream.)
– The Internet never forgets… people thinking about hiring you can pull up all those old messages you forgot about and WOW…won’t they be surprised?
– What about right now? Would you stand up in front of a million people today and do that sexy dance or act like an idiot or talk about how you drank too much when you weren’t old enough to drink at all?
– It’s not a secret… Maybe your mom and dad don’t know you are on Twitter. You went behind their back and created that account, so no one will ever know except the 1579 friends you’ve collected on Facebook (including the ones you’ve never met). How many of those people are who they say they are? You can be anyone you want to be online, right? Do you really know your “friends”?
– You need to be careful online. The new “street smart” is “social smarts.” There’s trouble online waiting for you if you’re careless. And you might not see it coming. Protect your privacy online. Be careful what you post. Think twice. Would you want your grandma to see that? Then it probably shouldn’t be online.”
Mary McCarthy is Senior Editor at SpliceToday.com and is the creator of pajamasandcoffee.com. She has been a professional writer for over 20 years for newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. She teaches classes at The Writer’s Center in Washington, D.C. and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Her first novel The Scarlet Letter Society releases in June 2014.