It has long been established that it’s dangerous for minors to be on Social Networking sites. There’s no need to list all the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ stories to get anyone to agree with this fact. The European Union has already released a self-regulatory agreement called Safer Social Networking Principles, so they can ensure minors will be protected if and when they join social networking sites. They got the social networking companies to sign the agreement. The problem, as always, reared its ugly head when it came to enforcement.
Research showed that the social networking sites were not complying with the agreement that they signed two years ago. As it turns out, most social networking sites don’t really take the protection of minors on cyberspace seriously. Only MySpace and Bebo changed the default setting of minors’ profiles to private. If a minor registers on, say, Facebook, his or her profile will be automatically set to public, meaning that it will be viewable to all. The only way it will be made private is if the minor wishes it and actually sets his privacy settings to ‘friends only’.
The problem is that minors are still too young to understand the true importance of Internet privacy. They often don’t understand the consequences of doing so, and they may not realize the risks involved on social networking sites. In fact, even if the minor did bother about online privacy, they can still be contacted by ‘friends of friends’ which, in the social networking world, might as well mean ‘complete strangers’. This makes them very vulnerable to cyberbullying or, worse, sexual grooming.
According to an EU Kids Online Study published in January, only 65% of teens aged 13 to 16 and about 34% of kids aged 11 to 12 years old actually know how to change their privacy settings. These numbers are pretty unsettling, because that means that a very large percentage of minors on the net are left unprotected.
Also, the research study conducted by the EU showed it’s very easy for a minor to lie about his or her age in order to create a social networking site profile. They tried to register as a 9 year old on Facebook and were, of course, denied. They were blocked from trying to make another account with an older age immediately afterwards. However, all they had to do to get around this problem was to close the browser and to reopen it. Parents also do not have many options when it comes to protecting their child on Facebook. Aside from going to the ‘
Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that they would like to make a revised version of the self-regulatory framework. The social networking sites were also urged to comply with the agreement.
After all, if the minors are to be kept safe, the parents and the government will need the cooperation of the social networking sites. Otherwise, it’s going to be near-impossible to protect the children from harm, unless government steps in with strong regulatory provisions.