Facebook for the under-13s, eh? That’s what Mark Zuckerberg wants. With two-year-olds using iPads, we clearly need online social networks for kids right down to kindergarten age. But please, dear God, not those bastards!

There’s two threads to unravel here. One is whether children under 13 should be interacting online. The other is whether Facebook can be trusted to provide the venue.

On the first point I’ll be blunt. If you reckon under-13s shouldn’t be interacting online, then you’re an idiot. What you’re really saying is that you want to destroy our children’s ability to cope with life. The important factor isn’t the online bit, it’s the interaction.

Humans are social animals. Some of the most important lessons children need to learn are about how to interact with others, how to co-operate, and where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie. The online realm is a fact of our existence now. Do you really want to delay these basic life lessons until kids are 13?

Kids really do need to learn the nuances of online communication from an early an age as possible.

Zuckerberg’s little suggestion has of course triggered a wave of screechy moral panic. “There’s obviously lots of opportunities there for kids to be bullied and all sorts of things,” said Carmel Nash, director of the Parents and Friends Federation Queensland. “Who are they going to be friends with on there?”

Goodness me! Not just bullying, but “all sorts of things”.

Nash is right. Before Facebook, there was never the opportunity for kids to pick on younger kids, sneak up behind them in the locker room, punch them and call them names and then, when they respond in kind, grab them and throw their head against a locker door where it strikes the sharp metal edge, the excruciating pain, the blood everywhere, surrounded by laughter, the tears, the sudden sheer terror that you might be dying …

Sorry, just reminiscing about the happy primary school days we all had before the internet ruined everything. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Kids interacting with kids. They do that, you know. And you know how we deal with that? How we’ve always dealt with that? Responsible. Adult. Supervision.

Supervision, I said. Not control. Not constant monitoring. Kids need their own space in order to grow and learn. On the primary school playground kids can have conversations with each other metres, sometimes tens of metres away from any eavesdropping adults. They should be able to do the same online.

The screechy fear-merchants need to get a grip. The online world is safer than the physical world. Not only is the risk of physical harm removed, everything that happens can be logged. We already have software tools that can monitor online conversations for signs of bullying and other suspicious activity, should parents be too lazy to develop a proper relationship with their offspring.

There is no problem here. The problem is Facebook.

The second point is that Facebook’s entire business model is about you revealing as much personal information as possible, which they can turn into a product for advertisers. They try to get you to open up your privacy settings using what I consider to be unethical tricks.

It’s almost a year since Quit Facebook Day protested against this behaviour. Nothing has changed since then.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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