Memo to Facebook: Face up to security responsibilities

Young Facebook users still need protection while online.

The Queen of England is now on Facebook–as if the increasingly popular social network needed that extra endorsement to attract users.

After The Social Network (the movie) and the 500 millionth customer signed up for an account, what more is left for Facebook to do? Grant Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg an honorary knighthood? Sir Mark Zuckerberg—that doesn’t sound too bad.

But before Sir Mark gets too heady with his fortune and fame, maybe it is time for Facebook and its staff to spend a little more time understanding what may be the most neglected part of its enormous customer base: young people, and more specifically, those between ages 13 and 18, and the online safety practices around them.

The issues surrounding Facebook privacy recently came to prominence with a class action lawsuit filed by two Los Angeles county teenagers who claimed that their privacy as minors was violated when Facebook, using the “Like” widget, effectively allowed advertisers to purchase their names and images without parental permission. (See “Teens sue Facebook over Like button.”)

The lawsuit highlights a long-simmering question as to whether the social network needs to attend more to its social responsibilities to minors, who flock to the site in the millions, rather than speeding towards the billionth member benchmark.

It is an open question whether the Californian litigation will lead to another round of bad publicity for Facebook, but it will surely help to raise awareness more broadly about online safety and the dangers for minors, such as their tendency to “overshare” information on the internet without a full understanding of the consequences of doing so.

It also will help move the debate about what controls Facebook should exercise to safeguard children not just from sexual predators and bullies, but also from the perils, including future perils and repercussions, which children face due to their daily web behaviors.

The risk for children is far more serious than for adults, who are in general better prepared to deal with the consequences of their actions. Children risk their entire futures through the mistake of one lewd photo or irreverent remark.

Laura Ascione
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