Friday, January 22, 2010

Things Every Parent Should Know About Facebook

Last weekend I was setting up a Facebook page for my pre-teen niece (and a corresponding one for her dad so he can monitor how she's using it). It occurred to me as I was trying to dredge up from memory various pieces of what I consider to be necessary information about Facebook that, just as companies are developing social media guidelines for employees, parents should present some form of social media guidelines to their kids before letting them interact online. It's easy enough to find information online about basic safety stuff for kids--sites like and are good places to start. However, now that Facebook seems to have gone from being interested in helping individuals safeguard their privacy to being interested in exploiting people's personal information in order to make money, I think it's more important than ever that parents whose kids are using Facebook have a thorough understanding of the platform themselves so they can guide their kids.

If you're a parent saying "It's Facebook--what is there to know?"--do you really know everything you think you do about Facebook? For instance:

  • Those fun games and quizzes on Facebook? They're just ways to farm data which developers can then do whatever they please with. Take this quiz designed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to learn just how vulnerable you make yourself AND all your friends every time you answer a seemingly fun quiz.
  • Think that you can still lock down your profile so nothing is visible to anyone other than your friends? Think again. Facebook changes stuff constantly and it's on you, the parent, to keep up with the changes so you can make sure your kids are protected. For starters, name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are now considered by Facebook to be public information and do not have privacy settings anymore.
  • Scams abound on Facebook. Scam groups like those offering stuff like Ugg boots giveaways, phishing scams where your friends' profiles get hacked and you start receiving emails or chat messages that appear to be your friend saying they've been kidnapped and need money, and malware scams are all things you need to let your kids know about so they're not taken in.
The bottom line? The bigger and richer Facebook becomes, the more important knowing how your information--and your kids' information--is being used, will become. If you don't want to use Facebook, you need to at least know enough about it to help your kids use it responsibly. This requires ongoing diligence on your part, as Facebook changes things constantly, including privacy settings and terms of service.

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