Facebook has 'serious' underage-user problem
Facebook has admitted it has a “serious problem” with underage users and said that in some cases parents lied to help their children set up accounts.
The social networking company said, however, it had no plans to remove apps for other sites that allow users post anonymous comments despite the increased risk of cyber-bullying.
At a briefing in Dublin, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK and Ireland, Simon Milner, admitted the firm had a “serious problem” with underage users.
The site forbids under-13s from registering accounts but surveys suggest a significant portion of youngsters aged eight and over in Ireland and elsewhere have Facebook accounts.
No silver bullet
“We don’t have a silver bullet solution” for dealing with underage users, Mr Milner said, but he maintained many children were registering accounts with their parents’ permission.
“What’s really striking is that in most situations the parents know about and have actually helped their children lie about their age to use the service.”
Facebook said it took the issue of bullying “very seriously” and applied strict authentication rules to its own accounts and material posted on the site.
Nevertheless, the site has come under fire for hosting apps for other popular networking sites, such as ask.fm, which operate less rigorous safety controls and fail to monitor harmful content.
Last year two Irish teenagers, Ciara Pugsley (15) in Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13) in Donegal, took their own lives after being subjected to alleged bullying campaigns on the ask.fmwebsite.
Mr Milner said Facebook did not condone the environment provided by ask.fmand described some of the incidents of bullying linked to the site as “horrendous”.
However, he insisted that users logging on to the site via Facebook were afforded greater protections than if entering the site independently.
“There’s a degree of protection provided by the Facebook login.
“If we had removed that link, I think we’d have left some of our younger users in a less safe place that they were previously.”
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has raised concerns about the ask.fmwebsite, which is registered in Latvia, with the EU and the Latvian authorities.
Facebook declined to disclose the number of staff now involved in implementing its safety controls or dealing with complaints about abusive content.
Mr Milner said Facebook had a strict policy when it came to abusive or harmful content.
However, he said bullying was a society-wide problem that could not be eradicated online.
Facebook could only “provide the best possible tools for the individual who feels bullied”, he said.
Facebook has a number of controls in place which it says protects minors – those under the age of 18 – from harmful content, such as stricter default privacy settings and narrowing sharing protocols.
When it comes to evaluating risky content, Patricia Cartes, Facebook’s EMEA safety lead, said the site drew a distinction between offensive content, which will normally be left on the site, and harmful content, which will be taken down as soon as possible.
While Facebook did not have an optimal response time for dealing with risky content, she said the site prioritised abuse reports related to young users.
Fake-name ruling Facebook ‘likes’
Facebook heralded last week’s ruling in a German court, affirming its right to require users register with their real names as a “step in the right direction”.
In what was viewed as a test case, the data protection commissioner for the state of Schleswig-Holstein had challenged Facebook’s ban on fake names on the grounds it breached German privacy laws and European rules designed to protect free speech online.
However, the Administrative Court of the State of Schleswig-Holstein last week ruled German law was inapplicable in this case as Facebook’s activities outside the US are based in Ireland, so it is Irish law that applies.
“We hope that our critics will understand that it is the role of individual services to determine their own policies about anonymity within the governing law – for Facebook Ireland European data protection and Irish law,” a spokeswoman said.
“We therefore feel affirmed that the orders are without merit,” she said.
Facebook estimates that there are about 83 million false accounts registered with the network.