Facebook Lets Teens Go From Private to Public

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 17, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Facebook is relaxing its privacy rules for teens. The move allows teenagers, ages 13 to 17, to post status updates, videos and images that can be seen by anyone, not just their friends or people who know their friends.

But why is Facebook making the change? And what does this mean for teens and their parents?

Facebook's New Teen Privacy Policy

The changes, which are effective immediately, aim to help Facebook compete against other social networks that skew younger, and to attract advertisers.

For Facebook, public data on teens is an untapped goldmine. As far as Facebook is concerned, "marketers are keen to reach impressionable young consumers, and the more public information they have about those users, the better they are able to target their pitches," reports The New York Times.

To rationalize its decision, Facebook adopted a kid-centric tactic: finger-pointing. Facebook said many other sites and mobile apps -- Twitter, Instagram, ask.fm and Kik, to name a few -- allow teenagers to have a public voice, reports the Times.

But critics say that's an unfair comparison because those services allow users to operate under a handle, whereas Facebook requires teenagers to use their real identities.

Facebook has also changed another aspect of its rules for teens, for which it drew "Likes" from parents and advocates alike. By default, new accounts for teenagers will be set up to share information only with friends, not "friends of friends" as before. (But teens can change the settings to public, so...).

Safety Tips for Teens

Obvious concerns over Facebook's new public option for teenagers include being victimized by online bullies and sexual predators. But parents and privacy advocates are also worried about teenagers posting thoughtless or stupid remarks under their real names. After all, impulsive "It seemed like a good at the time" posts can haunt young people for years to come.

To allay some of these concerns, teenagers should keep the following social media safety tips in mind:

  • Be careful with friend requests from strangers and meet-ups with people online.
  • Post only what you'd be willing to say or do in public.
  • Limit personal contact information.
  • Use location services with caution.
  • Don't post high or drunk selfies -- please.

Just like the 3-year-old expounding on his bowel movements on the toilet, teens have a propensity for "TMI" posts. As Facebook continues to juggle its competing interests (i.e., making money v. user safety), parents and teens will need to step it up and become their own strongest advocates.

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