If you are the parent of a teenager who uses Facebook, you need to read this and have a new conversation with your youngster – because some are being made at Facebook which affect who they can share their posts and other information with.

Everything here also applies of course if you have a younger child and have created a Facebook account for them/with them, using a false date of birth that is under 18 – if you have used a date of birth indicating they are an adult user, then their privacy settings are default the same as everybody else’s so you might want to take another look at that.

Teenage accounts do have specific safeguards on Facebook on a number of fronts, for example the kinds of advertising that is shown to them excludes certain more ‘adult’ themes as well as ads for alcoholic products and so on.

They also, up and till now, have not had access to the ‘public’ audience setting, nor have they had the ability to enable account ‘followers’ – well there would have been no public posts to follow before.  For teenagers sharing on Facebook was limited to swapping daft cartoons with their mates and expressing embarrassment themselves from family photos ‘where they look horrible’ (or perhaps that’s just my teenager)

public facebook settings

You do understand how to change your audience settings, right?

However Facebook in its wisdom has now decided that it might be OK for 13 to 18 year olds to have the option to post with the ‘public’ setting if they choose to, and this is being rolled out worldwide from mid October.

Facebook say this is because “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” – so, its nothing to do with the millennial generation departing the platform in droves then, and heading for other networks where their parents do not venture?  Glad we cleared that up.

For me as a parent the whole point is that teenagers are NOT always half as savvy as they think they are about technology or anything else.  Childhood and adolescence is a time when you are making mistakes and learning from them as you go along, and an important advantage of the slightly-more-restricted accounts for teens on Facebook was to limit the damage and increase protection whilst they took their first faltering steps online – it seems that an important element of this safeguard has not been summarily withdrawn and I cannot see whose interests are served by this.

Facebook are simply afraid of becoming uncool, being seen as your parents’ social network, the last place you would want to hang out.  Which only drives teens to greater use of Whatsapp, Snapchat and other far less regulated online spaces that are increasingly mobile-driven, leaving no trace on the family computer – for parents and young people alike, this is a bad move.

There is one small positive in the recent changes, that Facebook are naturally making much of – when you create a teenage account the audience sharing button used to default to ‘friends of friends’ – you had to manually alter it to ‘friends’ only.   The idea was presumably to help new users grow their friend list rapidly, so as soon as they had one or two friend connections made they had instant reach to a wider audience and could quickly reach new people they knew.

Now the default setting for Facebook sharing for 13 to 18 year olds is, as it should always have been, ‘friends only’.  However now, if they click the menu to alter that setting, the option to share to ‘public’ is now available.  It does pop up a warning double-checking that is what they really want to do, the first and second times a public posting is made… however like the audience selector in any other account the chosen setting remains in place until it is altered back again.

I suppose I can see why a small handful of switched on young activists or pop stars may feel the need to broadcast their postings more widely than their friends network, but surely that’s what Facebook PAGES are for?  If you have a cause or a product to big up you can create a Page – sharing on Facebook for young people especially should be about people you already know, not building an audience of unknown followers.

So in the light of this change I heartily recommend another conversation with any underage Facebook users you are responsible for, and make sure they understand the changes, and what each of the audience symbols mean.  Make sure they understand how they look and appear on every different device and app they use, and agree your own ground-rules about settings for them to stick to.

Make sure they understand the difference between a brand page for their favourite pop star which even though it just goes by the name of the performer is actually a professionally-managed online presence driven by publicists – and why making their newsfeed public is not the same thing.  It’s not going to get them ‘discovered’ in any positive or meaningful way, and so far as I am concerned with my family Facebook for anyone under 18 is going to remain family sharing only for the time being.

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, October 25th, 2013  ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL

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