Facebook rules for teens
Here are some guidelines for parents of teens asking to be on Facebook. Similar guidelines apply to other social networking sites. Not all suggestions are appropriate for all families, but they can be a starting point for discussing Facebook with your children.
UPDATE: New concerns about Facebook
For some time I tried to provide updates about new privacy concerns on Facebook, but their frequent reoccurrance has become a concern in its own right. Facebook by design seems to be constantly changing. Keeping up with the constantly changing privacy issues is as big a problem as any single privacy issue. The rest of the web is better at keeping up on Facebook privacy issues than I am. Here are just a few recent issues:
- The Open Graph capability that allows apps to post news about you automatically without your explicit knowledge and permission.
- Sponsored stories, page post ads, and promoted posts use your photo and information in ads.
The bottom line is that Facebook is not free - you and your information are being sold. All Facebook users should be aware that everything they do online may become public and may be used for advertising purposes.
If you are interested in keeping up with these developments, a useful resource is InsideFacebook.com, an independent organization that reports on new Facebook developments.
1. General comments
Facebook has a wide range of privacy settings available, and in general you want all the privacy you can get. Most of the horror stories about social networking involve kids making information public and/or making contact with strangers. The rules below are generally designed to avoid all contact with strangers. The key concept is to use Facebook only to interact with real personal friends.
I don't believe any part of the internet can be made safe enough to allow teens, particularly young teens, to browse around unsupervised. The rules below assume you are a parent who will take an active interest in monitoring your teen's online behavior. I strongly suggest that teens (and adults!) should always use some type of internet filtering, and that the computer they use to access the internet should be in a public place, not in their bedroom.
Lest you think this is paranoid, consider the following statement from the official Facebook terms:
We recommend that minors over the age of 13 ask their parents for permission before sending any information about themselves to anyone over the Internet.
Note that children under 13 are forbidden from using Facebook entirely by Facebook rules.
Facebook has been making rapid and radical changes over the past year, some of them involving pricavy controls and some of them quite controversial. It can be difficult to know exactly how public your information is, so you want to assume the worst and limit the amount of personal information posted.
Although you can delete your Facebook account, widespread information sharing means that some of your information may have been shared with other people and cannot be retrieved.
2. Privacy settings
- Facebook changes the privacy settings options on a regular basis. Any list of recommended settings quickly becomes out of date. However, the current settings are centered on two central questions, "who can see my stuff" and who can look me up." Adults may want to have more open settings, but minors especially should probably limit things to friends. The risk of predators or harrassment increases significantly when things are public.
- Because Facebook changes quickly and information often gets shared unknowingly or without permission, it is best to assume anything you say or do can become public. Don't trust the privacy settings to keep things secret.
- Search the web for up-to-date suggestions about best privacy settings such as the ones from Consumer Reports.
- One of your parents has a Facebook page and is your friend. This allows your parents to monitor what you do on facebook.
- Only people who are true friends in real life can be your friends in Facebook (friends of friends don't count unless they are already a personal friend to you too).
- Beware of spoof facebook pages, claiming to be someone they are not. Someone might do this to one of your friends as a "joke" and cause lots of confusion and trouble. This is one reason to interact only with true friends after you know it is their real facebook page.
- Parents approve all of your friends, or at least reserve the right to disapprove friends just as they presumably will in real life.
- Friends who use Facebook in a dangerous manner cannot be your online friends.
- Assuming you will have to say no to some friend requests, think ahead about how you can kindly turn down these requests. Also, think about the possible awkwardness of removing someone from your friend list, and don't add lots of friends casually.
- Recognize that there are many different kinds of friendship, but Facebook only recognizes friends or not friends (this is part of the risk of using Facebook). Don't put too much importance on whether someone agrees to be your Facebook friend or not.
4. Networks and Groups
- Only join networks and groups that are real organizations or groups in real life. This includes generally only your school, home town, church, and other similar organizations. Do not join other online Facebook networks. Recognize that geographic groups like towns and states can contain some people you really don't want to be associated with. Recognize that any network, including your school, may contain imposters.
- Get your parents' permission for any new networks or groups you join.
5. Places you go
- Don't visit profiles of anyone except your friends. Facebook is for keeping up with your friends, not for browsing profiles of people who are not your friends. This includes friends of friends.
- Be very careful with Facebook apps. Think of Facebook as a place to communicate with your friends, not a playground to play games. The worst privacy problems in Facebook are associated with apps accessing and sharing your information.
- Don't search except for the purpose of finding your true friends to establish friend links with.
6. Features you don't use
- Events - public announcements of events online is risky, unless they are really public events. You don't want strangers dropping in on your birthday party, do you?
- Marketplace - this is probably not the best way for you to buy and sell stuff either. Selling stuff and maintaining privacy don't go together. Nobody should know about you on Facebook except your friends, and if you want to sell to them there are better ways.
- Be careful about frivolous or humorous "likes." If you "like" something bad as a joke, you may find your picture promoting that item in an ad.
- Your parents need to know your facebook password. They need to log in as you occasionally to understand how Facebook looks from your point of view.
- Your parents agree not to change or make posts on your facebook page.This can be very embarrassing and defeats the purpose of Facebook. They access it for monitoring only, unless of course you post something really inappropriate.
- You agree that if you misuse facebook, your parents can disable your facebook account.
(C) Bill Lovegrove, 2007-2013. All rights reserved.