Let's get one thing straight. The notion that instituting parental controls for Facebook's underage users or creating a kid-friendly version will keep pre-teens off of the regular -- or unrestricted -- site is ridiculous. The 7.5 million children under the age of 13 who are lying to get on the site will continue lie with or without their parents' permission. According to Microsoft research, only 35 percent of parents whose kids are on Facebook actually know about it.
Child development experts and marketers know that aspiration is a core element of childhood. Little kids long to be like bigger kids. Preteens want to be teenagers. And teens want to be in their twenties. After all, the readers of Seventeen Magazine aren't seventeen. At seventeen, kids are reading Vogue, or Cosmo. Kids are sneaking on to Facebook because it's cool, iconic in our culture, and doesn't have parental controls. They won't be satisfied with Facebook-lite.
Here's who will likely use a kid-friendly Facebook: The millions of children who aren't sneaking on to the real thing. Relieved at dodging the perils of an unrestricted Facebook experience, parents who have been setting limits and kids who have been obeying them will be lulled into believing that the new version is safe. And suppose Facebook lowers the age limit to eight. At one end, six- and seven-year-olds will nag their parents to get on. And on the other, eleven- and twelve-year-olds, scorning a social networking site for little kids, will either nag their parents to get on the regular site or -- sneak on.
The advantages to Facebook are obvious -- millions of new users and lifetime brand loyalty, the gold standard in marketing. But the harms to kids are numerous. For one thing, they are particularly vulnerable to Facebook's brand of marketing, which leverages personal information to deliver targeted ads and encourages peer-to-peer marketing. Kids shouldn't be subjected to a barrage of advertising honed specifically to who they are -- their friends, their interests, and their online behavior -- or be notified every single time a friend "likes" a movie, a game, a video game, or any other product.
Even if Facebook dumps the advertising, the site isn't safe. In 2011, one million minors were threatened or harassed on Facebook. Girls ages eight to 12 who are heavy users of social media have fewer good feelings about their friendships. It's hard enough for adolescents to cope successfully with online relationships and encounters. Younger children have not yet developed the maturity and judgment essential to managing the perils of cyber "friendships" or grasping the potential consequences of sharing personal information. But if Facebook starts targeting kids, the pressure to join the site will be intense.
So what can we do? We stop this idea before it becomes a reality. Facebook is vulnerable to public opinion right now, and, at this point, Mark Zuckerberg's dream of targeting kids is only a dream. Sign the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's petition to keep kids off Facebook. And join CCFC's Facebook page, "No FB for Kids Under 13."