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Friday, September 24, 2010

Facebook Fires Back...Again

If you read this blog, you know that I occasionally get e-mails from a person at Facebook complaining or disputing my many Facebook related posts.  I got another one today, this one directing my attention to this article:

The article reports that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated over $100 million to schools in Newark NJ.  The e-mail that I received had this message in it for me:

"You go to great lengths to point out how Facebook is supposedly harmful for children and that Facebook as a company has no interest in the welfare of children.  This donation by our CEO proves that you are very wrong and, I believe, discredits you as a critic."

Really?!  So you create a product that readily reveals private information about children, that facilitates cyber-bullying and harassment from anonymous sources, and makes it easy for pedophiles and sexual predators to stalk and hunt minors...and this donation is supposed to make that all "ok."  Seriously?

Pablo Escobar was one of the most generous donors to schools and social services in his local community in Columbia.  Did that make the drug empire he ran "ok"? Did that make up for the millions of people who's lives were destroyed from addiction to his drugs?  I'm not saying that Facebook is comparable to a Columbian drug cartel (far from it), but a donation doesn't automatically fix the problems.  Morality isn't something you can purchase.  I would have rather seen Zuckerberg invest that money into efforts around making Facebook safer for kids.  Then at least he would be accepting responsibility for the problems his product creates.

And of course I have to end with my usual sermon.  The blame for exposure to dangerous Facebook features does not lie solely with the people at Facebook.  Any parent who lets their child get onto Facebook without direction or monitoring is equally to blame. Ignorance isn't an excuse, it's a form of laziness.  Learn about Facebook and if you must let your kids on it, be there with them.  It's a dangerous neighborhood.

(note: the communication I have received from Facebook has been from an anonymous person who claims to be a Facebook employee.  No official communication from Facebook has been issued, though I would very much like to start that dialogue with them)


  1. Hi Mike. When Facebook is set up properly and you use your head while on it, I think it is pretty safe - as safe as anything can be on the internet. I completely agree with you that parents need to be on it WITH their kids and make sure the kids are safe, learn what not to post and who not to friend, and be TAUGHT how to use a social network. I disagree that Facebook is the one at fault here. They essentially created social networking. They are bound to make mistakes. I feel they have done a pretty good job keeping on top of things. My opinion is somewhat biased because I love using Facebook. But I also taught my kids how to use it and they in turn taught me - it's a two-way street. To me, the problem is when parents don't take an active role in their kids online activities. That is when bad things happen.

  2. Tracy I hear what you are saying and don't disagree. I also applaud your motivation to do Facebook the right way with your kids. Most parents aren't nearly as dedicated or involved as you when it comes to their kid's online lives. Facebook has too many sharp edges to be safe for children without adult intervention and the problem is that most parents aren't involved. What are we left with?...a large number of kids using Facebook unsafely. That problem doesn't disappear just because you and I provide the proper guidance to our own children. Gadgets that reveal information that should be private are too easy and fun to use. I don't think Facebook should go away, I myself use it and enjoy it. I think Facebook needs to make a strong effort to keep kids off, provide kids a safe alternative, or make it easier for parents to control the experience.

  3. Yes, but how? Do you have to provide a credit card to be able to open an account? How about you have to link to a parents account to have an account? Having been on MySpace way back when (before they made it like facebook) and hated how open it was - getting constant messages from strange men I did not know even though my page said "married" all over it... I enjoy keeping my page private on Facebook. I understand what you are saying and I agree, however it will take a genius to come up with a solution.

  4. McAfeeCyberMom. Hi.

    The "how" is as follows and honestly doesn't require genius. I'd argue that it just takes a practical dose of common sense and a genuine willingness to use the technology and tools that have been around for years combined with human involvement to create a positive and safety first experience for our kids online.

    To date, it seems these sites have chosen not to use these tools. Most networks were created by, and meant for adults and were not created with the online safety and privacy of minors as a key priority.

    So the details on the "how":

    1. Comply with COPPA. A website operator is not allowed to let a child under the age of 13 join their site with out "verifiable parental consent" and to provide that parent direct access to the content their child posts.

    2. A website complies with COPPA by getting parental consent before allowing a child to join. How? Ask the parent for their consent and then require that parent to verify and agree to your sites TOS that states they are the parent.

    3. Verify the identity of that parent to make sure they really are who they say they are. *A credit card never ever verifies a persons identity. It only verifies that the account exists. (First name, last name, DOB, Drivers License or last 4 of soc security are identity verifiers.)

    4. Also verify that the parent isn't a registered sex offender with the same data above.

    5. Then ask that parent to verify the age of their child. (When website operator knows child is under 13 they can put special safeguards in place to protect the child).

    6. Give parent access on a "parent dashboard" to everything their child posts (if under age 13) so that the website will comply with COPPA and parent can by directly involved with their child's activity on line.

    7. Make all kid and teen profile pages always set to private. Once a friend request is approved, only that new friend may view profile.

    8. Make sure the content and culture is all kid and teen specific. (Technology and human oversight makes this realistic).

    9. Use technology, human oversight and engage youth community "ambassadors" to model good online citizenship and to help teach others their age the right way to engage with peers in an online community.

    10. Include a site community 'curriculum' that proactively messages how to be Internet safety smart.

    11. Sites can proactively keep parents involved in community activities and provide online safety information to help encourage dialogue between parents and their children.

    If there's a will there's a way.

    Mary Kay Hoal
    Founder,President, COO - for kids and teens - for parents