Parents Get Ready to SCREAM: Social Media Opens the Door for Tweens and Teens

The world’s largest social media site recently eased its privacy settings for teenagers; Facebook users aged 13 to 17 can now share their profile content publicly. While previously they could only share posts as widely as “friends of friends”, the new rules allow teens to make any message or photo available publicly within the platform or even across the Web.

“Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard,” Facebook explained on its site. “While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social-media services.”

Facebook Privacy

 Other Social Sites Appealing to Young Users
The Facebook policy change has created a firestorm of concerns over safety and privacy for children who are engaging online. However, although the platform has perhaps received more scrutiny than others over the recent modification, it is definitely not the only online service courting younger users.

Twitter allows teens to share broadly on its service, as does Google+. Even LinkedIn – a network focused on business users – started letting users as young as 13 join in some countries as of August; though the platform restricts how widely some information (including birth dates and profile photos) can be shared.

instagramThen there is Instagram, which is quickly becoming the most popular platform for the tween and teen demographic. Many users under the age of 13 were signing up for Instagram before they were permitted to register for Facebook, and they’ve since become devoted fans of the service. In fact, the percentage of teens who consider Instagram the top social site has nearly doubled in a year, while popularity points for Facebook and Twitter have actually dropped.

Public Data Hazard
Unfortunately, the consequences of sharing information publicly are not well established amongst the teen population. They aren’t as aware of the permanence of a public profile photo or Facebook status. Let alone searchability risks. The more public teenager disclosures become, the easier it will be for unintended parties to find them. And the web is crawling with creeps, bullies, even nosy bloggers – not to mention potential employers. The attention garnered online from unwanted publicity of a teen’s most embarrassing moments can be absolutely devastating.

Heightened Challenge for Parents
Teen on ComputerIt’s more important than ever for parents to ensure their children are aware of the challenges and issues that can occur online. In order to do so, they must first educate themselves. Banning a child from using certain sites can only protect them to a certain extent, whereas giving them the tools to navigate the online world without putting themselves at risk is more beneficial in the long term.

Twitter has published an entire page on safety tips for parents. There are also a number of Internet filters or family safety software programs that can sift through dangerous content. Parents will likely want to set specific guidelines for social media use, and most importantly, encourage open communication should any online conflicts occur.

Increased Responsibility for Brands
Facebook LikeThe recent attentiveness to social media privacy risks for kids provides businesses an opportunity to demonstrate responsible marketing. Understanding kids are on social media, brands should be aware of how they might be perceived online and extra cautious of taking advantage of this demographic.

Whether you’re a children’s brand using Facebook or a winery sharing brand-related news on Twitter, it’s more important than ever to understand the rules and restrictions associated with these platforms and tailor the ideas and conversation you’re sharing accordingly. At the end of the day, putting the energy into practicing responsible online advertising could be a great marketing opportunity in itself.

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