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Does Facebook Really Target Children?



Our society has something of a fraught relationship with social media. This is perhaps best illustrated by our connection with Facebook. It is the most widely used social media platform in the world, yet its behaviour is among the most contentious. Indeed, there have recently been two whistleblowers in as many weeks making claims about disturbing activities allegedly performed by the company. These allegations span the illegal and the unethical.

Among the various claims about Facebook are those related to how it treats children. Leaked internal documents appear to show the company described children as young as 10 as an “untapped audience”. The company also performed studies on preteen online behaviour and considered the development of platforms specifically aimed at kids. Many parents and community leaders are concerned.


So, is there any credence to the idea Facebook is actively targeting children? 
We’re going to examine a few areas it’s important to consider about the situation.


The Intention


We really need to look at what the intentions of Facebook are. Can we accurately posit the company is encouraging children to join its platform? On a surface level, this appears not to be the case. After all, there is a strict minimum age of 13 years old for officially joining the platform. This isn’t always enforced, though. There are no identification requirements to limit underaged users from connecting with the service. But it’s also important to review whether they’re taking similar steps to TikTok in removing children who get through the net.


From an official perspective, Facebook seems to be doing this. A recent post by the company states it is using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify underage users. Yet it’s just as important to note the same post discusses creating social media experiences for those under 13. While it may not appear Facebook is specifically targeting children, there’s no denying it’s interested in doing so.






This brings us to another issue of intent. Does Facebook have any interest or intention to collect children’s data? Well, it would certainly appear so. In its privacy policy, Facebook cites using information from the Messenger Kids app to provide, improve, and develop services. This is an issue many parents are understandably concerned about. Among the steps adults need to take to keep their kids safe online are protecting personal data and understanding where the dangers may lie. This can be difficult when a company is regularly collecting data to be used for commercial intentions. As it is part of Facebook’s behaviour to collect and store the content of children’s interactions with the platform, it’s vital to have conversations with kids about what is and isn’t positive to share.


The Tools


The next point to look at is whether there are any Facebook tools specifically targeted at kids. The design of a website can be a contributing factor here. The job of a web designer is wide-ranging; it’s not just to make a site look beautiful. They often have the responsibility of influencing the user experience (UX) of the site, adapting elements to suit specific needs of the business and designated audiences. This may include making elements more user-friendly and safer for children. Therefore, we need to consider whether the tools and platforms Facebook offers are designed to be used by children.


At first glance, there is little on the main Facebook platform genuinely targeted at children. However, there are ways to access some games through Facebook. There is even a class action lawsuit underway claiming kids were tricked into spending money through gaming apps on the platform. This tells us that while not overtly meant for children, the company has pursued design elements not just attractive to kids but easily utilized by them. Though, Facebook’s response was more one of offering tips to control kids’ access.


Perhaps the most relevant aspect here is the fact the company has produced some tools specifically geared toward kids. The aforementioned Messenger Kids is the primary element here. Facebook is continuing development to make the platform more attractive and easily navigable for kids. Until recently, the company was also building an Instagram app for those under 13. Facebook has paused this development, ostensibly focusing on parental supervision tools and related conversations with policymakers. However, they are clear in their intention to provide such products to kids in the future, stating it’s “the right thing to do.”


The Messaging


On one hand, Facebook has responded to issues with measures seemingly designed to protect children. However, these have not often been pre-emptive actions. There was a recent complaint that companies selling alcohol were able to specifically target ads on Facebook at those under the age of 18. Its response was an acknowledgement that younger users may not be equipped to make decisions about adult advertisements. It then put limitations on interest-based targeting for young users. There was no messaging about whether it accepted responsibility for this issue. The company also didn’t commit to entirely removing the ability for advertisers to target young users.


Aside from the more ambiguous messaging, there are some glaring statements. Facebook clearly sees kids as an important part of its future. This is vital to its survival as it continues to lose teen users to its rivals. Rather than flat out deny its association with kids, the company has recently been describing a specific kids’ platform as a solution to young users lying about their age to gain access to Facebook. It also describes kids’ platforms as a way to prepare them for the current primary methods of social interaction and communication.


Conclusion


The idea that a social media company may be targeting children can be disquieting. While there is a policy of restricting Facebook access to those over the age of 13, the company is obviously interested in pursuing younger demographics. Between the development of kid-focused tools and explicit messaging about its future relationships with kids, there is a lot to consider. As such, the onus is on parents to be aware of Facebook's tools and how data policies affect kids' lives. They must also talk to young users about responsible online behaviour.


Amanda Winstead

A writer from the Portland area in the United States with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys travelling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.



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Does Facebook Really Target Children? Reviewed by Amanda Winstead on Saturday, November 27, 2021 Rating: 5

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