Facebook admits 'underage' problem

Facebook has admitted a 'serious problem' with underage users.

Facebook has admitted a 'serious problem' with underage users.


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 today, however, it had no plans to remove apps for other sites which 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 currently 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.

“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.fm website.

Facebook said today the ask.fm app did not violate its platform policies and that it provided a safer entry point to the ask.fm site for younger people.

Mr Milner said Facebook did not condone the environment provided by ask.fm and 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.fm website, 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 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 the Facebook did not have an optimal response time for dealing with risky content, she said the site prioritised abuse reports related to young users.

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