Facebook removing 20,000 underage users a day

Some 20,000 Facebook accounts are closed every day because the account holders are underage. This startling fact came out during testimony to a parliamentary cyber-safety commission in Australia by Facebook’s chief privacy adviser Mozell Thompson.

“There are people who lie. There are people who are under 13 [accessing Facebook],” said Thompson, according to Australia’s Daily Telegraph. “Facebook removes 20,000 a day, people who are underage.”

Although Facebook’s policies prohibit children under the age of 13 from joining, there is very little the social network can do if an applicant chooses to lie about his or her age. Facebook will review an account if it receives a report that the account holder is underage. However, it provides little feedback on how it handles those reports, stating only that if “the child’s age is reasonably verifiable as under 13, we will promptly delete the account.”

The fact that Facebook is still deleting 20,000 accounts a day under these vague and hard-to-verify rules hints at the scope of the problem. An earlier New York Times report quoted a ComScore estimate that 3.6 million of Facebook’s 153 million monthly visitors in this country are under 12. Some of these children may not have accounts and may just be visiting public pages but it still indicates the allure the site holds for the very young.

Facebook’s efforts to restrict underage accounts are complicated by the fact that many of these accounts are opened with parental consent. Many parents are concerned that if they saythey say no, their kids will go ahead and open an account anyway. Others see it as an opportunity to “friend” their child and see that the account is managed responsibly.

Whatever the reason, Facebook is facing a seemingly unstoppable tide of underage sign-ups, attracting additional scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers at a time when online privacy is high on everyone’s agenda.

Meanwhile, Thompson told the Australian commission that Facebook plans to hire a cyber-safety expert to help deal with underage users in that country. It will also continue to work on safeguards such as “help buttons” and clearer guidelines on what younger members should do if they feel unsafe or come across inappropriate material.

Comment by Laura Vivoni, posted 3/25/2011, 9:17 PM:

I think it would be easier if FB would embrace young people and create an alternate FB that works along side of regular FB but with "parental blocks" Allowing under age children to join yet having stricter policies for them. http://cocoons2butterflies.blogspot.com/
Comment by zinglewaga, posted 3/25/2011, 2:36 PM:

We set up an account for our 12 year old. Many of her friends have accounts. I'd rather she started learning appropriate online practices now whilst we still have lots of influence. The deal was we get to be her friends, we get to have her password, we get to set her privacy settings. She's not allowed to post any personal info or photos. We considered trying to get her interested in one of the "Facebook for Kids" type sites, but what's the point if none of her friends are on it.
Comment by Dianne Mojica , posted 3/24/2011, 2:50 PM:

What if you report the account, will it say who reported it? I know a person that set up an account for minor which is 7 years old.
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