A recent article in The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook has plans to soon allow users under the age of thirteen to have legitimate Facebook accounts. Under the new rules, kids would be able sign up for Facebook by linking their account to their parents’ so that their parents could supervise what they post and who they talk to. While this news has sparked the obvious discussion of what harm Facebook could do to children, it also got me thinking about how this would change the virtual climate of Facebook in general.
When I first got a Facebook, I was about fourteen and I did it completely on my own. For the first time, I presented myself to the "world”, in essence, formed a brand image of myself. I had just started to gain some independence and develop my own sense of how I wanted the world to see me, and was able to express that through Facebook. The pictures I put up, how I described myself in my “info” section, and the interactions I had with others forced me to take responsibility for how others saw me, all in a single profile.
In some ways, this initial step out from under my parents wing, this small act of rebellion, is what made Facebook so appealing. However, if children are creating accounts that will be controlled by their parents before they are even out of elementary school, Facebook will no longer be a way that kids brand themselves as individuals.
Instead, many kids may grow up never remembering a time when they didn’t have a Facebook profile. Their Timeline could literally begin when they were born. Their account would not necessarily represent their personal “brand” on their own because it will be heavily influenced and controlled by their parents from the time they created it. In their mind, Facebook and parents will now be perpetually related.
By no means am I suggesting that this will lead to the crumbling of Facebook. However, I do think that it will take away an integral part of what draws kids to join. When your baby cousin, mom, and Great Aunt Evelyn are all on Facebook, what will step in as the cool new social media for youth? How will these Facebook “training wheels” affect the way that people use Facebook? It’s undeniable that Facebook is a huge part of our lives, yet as it becomes accessible to everyone, will some lose interest? Or will Facebook be able to continue to keep hold of every market?