Facebook has already altered society in ways we’re just now beginning to grasp. It has drastically altered the way we communicate by opening up diverse avenues of expression (think Likes, News Feed, Farmville, Mafia Wars etc) but it can also have a darker side.
Take the recent Consumer Reports national survey for instance. According to this report, almost 20 million minors use the social networking website on an active basis, with 7.5 million under the age of 13 – while 5 million were said to be less than 10 years old.
This is quite a shocking report considering that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg allegedly ‘ensures’ that no underage user slips under the radar. Children need to be protected from themselves – not to mention the outside world. Watching them spend their time indoors chatting on this social media website does not leave them unscathed from stranger danger. Online predators can be as deadly as those that lurk outside. You can’t see them nor can you know if your child is safe from them.
Social media websites allow a unique window of opportunity for sexual predators. Take the 2006 Paso Robles case for instance. A 25 year old sex offender was charged with violating his parole by victimizing three underage girls using social media websites. What makes this case stand out is that the offender had already been convicted of committing similar crimes a few years earlier. The difference between the incidents in different years was the methods he employed to try to convince young girls to let him in their homes.
While the pedophile was served a four year jail sentence for his crimes, social media provided him with new tools and channels that didn’t require him leaving his house after he was released. All he had to do was sit back and lure innocent young girls into his deceptive web. The social website he used enabled him to remain incognito for as long as it took to make them comfortable with him. After all, do you really think such impressionable and young girls have a chance against an experienced sexual predator?
That’s not the most alarming part either. According to CNN, Facebook founder Zuckerburg stated recently that he plans to open his social media website to 13 year olds! Apparently the move is an attempt to provide a more ‘diverse’ education to students so as to mould the minds of a more ‘innovative’ future.
There have been objections to this idea from many child protection organizations who believe that it may open greater avenues of discovery for child sex offenders. However, the most they can do for now is to advise parents to screen their child’s online activities as closely as possible so that he/she remains safe from that hidden threat.
What do you think? How old should a child be before they can use social media sites such as Facebook?