Facebook is loosening the restrictions placed on its younger users.
Beginning this week, Facebook announced in a press release, 13- to 17-year-olds will have their sharing preferences set automatically to "friends," meaning that most posts – at least at first – will only be seen by a limited amount of people. But the social network says it will also give many teenagers the unprecedented ability to take their posts to a much wider audience.
"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, starting today, people aged 13 through 17 will also have the choice to post publicly on Facebook," Facebook reps said in the press release. "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 promised that 13- to 17-year-olds would see an extra warning before they were able to take their posts public. And yet the move from Facebook has some wondering whether the social network – which now counts a user base of more than a billion people – will see some blow back from parents and from lawmakers.
As Emily Bazelon of Slate notes in a blog post today, Facebook has been careful to dress up its new policy for young users as a win for "civic engagement." And yet Facebook doesn't derive its income from "civic engagement." It derives its income from advertisers, who want as much data as possible on consumers young and old.
"In my reporting on young people and social media, I haven’t run into any teenagers lobbying to be heard more on Facebook. They are plenty heard already. But of course, this isn’t about what kids want. It’s about what Facebook wants, which is to make more money," Ms. Bazelon writes. "If kids can share publicly," she adds, "then their posts, or things they 'like,' can also turn into the advertising fodder that the company is banking on for profits."