Recently, Cara Hykawy of the British Columbia Council for Families (BCCF) blogged about an issue that often gets a little lost under the radar: are children under 13 years old too young to be on Facebook?

This has no direct relation to the question of whether they’re allowed on Facebook, since they currently are not. The reality is, however, that something like 7.5 million kids below the 13-year-old cut-off are now on Facebook, signing up either by lying about their age or by having an adult (usually a parent, we’d hope) set up an account for them. The fact is, young children are on social networks and we need to focus on keeping them safe, as keeping them off in the first place is almost guaranteed to fail.

As the article points out, Facebook is taking some proactive steps to address the issue of under-age Facebookers, considering a number of solutions ranging from linking childrens’ accounts directly to those of their parents to making childrens’ default setting “Friends Only”.

Our own Merlyn Horton weighed in in the Comments section, praising Facebook’s proposed measures and highlighting the current lack of effective identity verification online. She also made the interesting observation that modifications by Facebook to address this issue might result in parents’ and caregivers relaxing their guard.

Another parent on the blog laments the proliferation of alias accounts young people are creating, many of which escape parental scrutiny and attract age-inappropriate content.

Enter Larry Magid. And danah boyd.

Here is what the former says on the issue:

Memo to Zuckerberg: Do it right

I think Facebook should allow children under 13 but, as I said last year, it has to be done carefully and thoughtfully with extra precautions. There needs to be parental involvement and control and Facebook needs to provide extra privacy protections for young children that would include more secure defaults than it has for teens and adults. There are already additional privacy protections for users under 18, but the company needs to be even more careful for younger children.  Ideally, I would like to see children under 13 have an ad-free experience and Facebook certainly must avoid collecting and storing personal information about children other than what is needed to provide them the service.

And the latter (from the same article):

[parents] want their kids to have access to public life and, today, what public life means is participating even in commercial social media sites. [They] are not saying get on the sites and then walk away. These are parents who have their computers in the living room, are having conversations with their kids, they often helping them create their accounts to talk to grandma.”

Excellent stuff. Let’s hope everyone continues to have real, practical dialogue on this issue. The issues parents are struggling with are real and should not be dismissed, but for good or for ill (and we suspect even that answer won’t be simple) it’s no longer realistic to demand that younger children are denied access to social media.