Let's start by playing a little word association game. I am going to say a word and you tell me which of the five following words does not belong. Ready?
Business Adults Professional Career Children
Did anybody pick "Children"?
As you know, LinkedIn is one of the largest and fastest growing social media sites with over 225 million users. It is commonly referred to as "The World's Largest Professional Network" and touts an average user gross annual income of over $100,000/year. Until now, it has been an adult-only site, meaning you had to be 18 or older to join. Not anymore.
Yesterday LinkedIn announced that they, together with 200 hand-selected schools, were launching a new product called "University Pages". They pitched the new initiative as an excellent tool for high-school students to find, meet and otherwise engage with staff, faculty and alumni as they prepare for their college careers. On the face of it, it sounds like a perfectly noble cause with good intentions. Here is the problem. In order to make this work, LinkedIn has to let our children join the site. You heard me right, as of September 12th children as young as 14 will be able to join LinkedIn in the United States. In other countries that number is as low as 13 years old.
Does that concern anyone? Yes, I know supporters will point to the potential benefits. I also understand that special provisions are being taken by LinkedIn to control the amount of information adults can see on children's accounts. I would also hope that they have additional safety monitoring devices at the ready. Still, I am concerned.
If you have followed me at all, you know I am a big proponent of protecting our children online. I have written numerous blogs and appeared on several television shows discussing subjects like monitoring your child's online activity, using settings to limit access to certain sites and features and cyberbullying. Still, these safeguards are not by any means foolproof and we hear way too many stories about bad things happening to our children as a result of their online activity.
You could argue that Facebook has a minimum user age requirement of 13. So how is that any different? You could also say that children can already join LinkedIn if they want to by creating a fake profile and certifying that they are over the age of 18.
Here's how it is different. Yes, the minimum age for Facebook is 13, but 18.9 percent of the 1.1 billion users are 14-17 years old. That is 200 million other children to talk to and interact with, compared to ZERO on LinkedIn. On Facebook they can certainly discuss college plans and career paths with their peers and reach out to universities, but they most often discuss which Pokemon character is their favorite and school drama, not business! Would you like a rough analogy? Having your child on LinkedIn is kind of like inviting your six-year old to the company Christmas party. Second, yes you can be a child, lie about your age and sign-up for a LinkedIn account, but why would you? It is a professional network full of adults. Last time I checked, adults were the last group of people children wanted to be around.
I am all for using social media to enhance our children's lives and I love the idea of establishing relationships with colleges early. I am just not convinced this is the right vehicle to do it. You may or may not agree, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Follow Kim Garst on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kimgarst