The Center for Digital Democracy wants parents to understand that Facebook is not suitable for kids under 13. To drive home that point the agency has created a list of five reasons Facebook is bad for younger children. From online data mining, a lack of safeguards, and even unhealthy food choices the group makes a compelling argument for keeping your young children off the popular social network and others like it.
Children would become part of one of the Internet’s most expansive personal data collection and proﬁling platforms.
We have known for a long time that Facebook tracks our movements, monitors our social interactions, and collects any other information we are willing to give up. The center argues that children should not give up their status updates, “likes”, and other personally identifiable information. By engaging in precise internet marketing kids under 13 could find themselves lured towards products and services that they don’t need or want.
The center explains Facebook’s practices:
“This can include not only what they say and do on Facebook, but also their movements and behaviors across the web and ofﬂine.2 Most people are focused on their social experiences on Facebook and do not understand how Facebook’s business relationships are designed to use their digital proﬁles and personal relationships for commercial surveillance and marketing purposes.”
Children would be exposed to a new generation of highly persuasive and manipulative digital marketing practices.
One million active advertisers currently use the Facebook platform and now all of them use campaigns that younger audiences will understand. Through various Facebook “tools” advertisers are constantly changes how they display ads to users.
The Digital Democracy group focuses on Facebook’s marketing and advertising techniques that raise concerns for children:
- Tapping into users’ online social relationships to orchestrate peer-to-peer brand promotion among friends and acquaintances; this includes targeting key “inﬂuencers” and enlisting them to become “brand ambassadors.”
- Blurring the lines between marketing and content by enabling marketers to insert their branding messages into the “News Feeds” that appear on individual proﬁles.
- Offering prizes, sweepstakes, and other incentives to “activate” users to engage in behaviors that support marketer goals — such as “liking” a product, joining a branded community, or sharing a promotional message with others.
- Tracking and measuring user responses to marketing messages in real time in order to perfect the persuasive techniques.
Facebook’s marketing practices would take advantage of children’s cognitive, social, and emotional vulnerabilities.
Previous studies have proven that children because of their cognitive development are more susceptible to certain types of ads. For example, were you aware that a cartoons own products can’t be shown in commercials when that show is airing?
The group notes:
“The younger ones cannot always tell the difference between fantasy and reality, or recognize advertising. For example, children under 8 have difﬁculty understanding persuasive intent, making it hard for them to realize that advertising and marketing techniques are tools marketers use to persuade them to buy something as opposed to simply delivering factual information.”
Even older children are often confused by marketing campaigns that are disguised as entertainment or embedded into online games.
Children would be subjected to an onslaught of unhealthy food marketing—precisely at a time when childhood obesity has become a major crisis.
Childhood obesity has become a major problem in the United States and the group notes that food and beverage markets have aggressive targeted social media in recent years.
The group worries that Coke (70 million fans), McDonald’s (29+ million fans), and other advertisers will aggressively target an already obese childhood population in order to attract lifetime customers for their brands.
There are no safeguards in place that can adequately protect children from Facebook’s aggressive and harmful marketing and data collection practices.
Facebook’s own privacy settings are not setup to protect children and the updated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) offer very little protection for children when it comes to the true scope of manipulative and harmful marketing practices.
As it currently stands opting out of marketing campaigns is a troublesome process and social networks like Facebook continue to skirt around government ordered marketing practices.
COPPA does cover some new practices for marketing to children but mostly by putting those protections in the hands of parents who oftentimes can’t figure out how to control their own Facebook settings let alone an entirely new set of Facebook created protections for children.
Even if Facebook enacts all of the COPPA rules set forth the digital advertising landscape is constantly evolving and new features will soon subvert FTC laws.
Facebook is a very popular platform and will likely continue to grow well into the future. In the meantime parents should really think twice before allowing their children under the age of 13 to sign-up and sign-on.
Author: James Kosur
James Kosur has worked in the new media space for the last 10 years, helping many publications build their audiences to millions of monthly readers. He currently serves as the Director of Business Development at Business2Community.com and the CEO of Aven Enterprises LLC.