Facebook 'may soon allow' under-13s to join the site

Facebook and children Cyber-bullying and child pornography are among the reasons under-13s are banned from Facebook

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Facebook may soon allow children younger than 13 years old to access the site under parental supervision, reports say.

The social networking giant is developing technology to link children's accounts to those of their parents, says the Wall Street Journal.

The publication also claims parents could be allowed to control whom their children add as friends.

At the moment, Facebook bans under-13s from joining the site.

The social network currently has more than 900 million users, and opening it up to under-13s could significantly boost the numbers.

Although when approached by the BBC, Facebook's spokeswoman refused to either confirm or deny the reports, she did say that the company was constantly testing new technologies.

She also added that children's safety had always been of paramount importance.

"Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services," Facebook said in a statement to the BBC.

"We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment."

Lying about age

Among the main reasons of banning under-13s from accessing Facebook are cyber-bullying, child pornography and trolling.

Start Quote

We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that the under-13s are safe”

End Quote Mark Zuckerberg Facebook

But many analysts wonder whether simply stating that young children are not allowed to join is really solving the problem.

According to surveys, many under-13s get on Facebook anyway, by lying about their age while completing the application form.

And it seems that often, parents are in the loop.

A recent study by researchers from Harvard, University of California, Northwestern University and Microsoft Research found that 72% of parents who had reported that their child was on Facebook knew that that the child joined the social network before age 13.

In May 2011, Consumer Reports found that "of the 20 million minors who actively use Facebook", 7.5 million were younger than 13 and more than five million were younger than 10.

McAfee conducted a study in 2010 which said that 37% of 10 to 12-year-olds were on the social network.

The social network is aware that under-13s do manage to join, and has a page offering advice to parents to help them educate their children about potential issues in the online world.

Children's safety

In May, the Sunday Times quoted Facebook's head of policy in the UK, Simon Milner, as saying that the social network was getting ready to change its policy with regard to allowing younger users join the site.

"A lot of parents are happy their kids are on Facebook," he was quoted as saying.

"We would like to hear from people what the answer might be."

But Facebook's spokeswoman told the BBC that Mr Milner was misquoted, and that it was not correct to conclude from the interview he gave to the Sunday Times that the network was considering to open up to under-13s.

"All he said was that children's safety is extremely important to us, and he did not say anything new," said the spokesperson.

Last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also mentioned safety.

"My philosophy is that for education, you need to start at a really, really young age," he said, as quoted by Fortune.

"We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that the under-13s are safe."

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