Bottom line: Facebook has announced that if you are using its platform and you are suspected of being under the age of 13, you may find your account locked until you can provide proof otherwise. The announcement comes on the heels of an undercover report that trainers tell new moderators to turn their heads on underage users.
Kids who were originally affected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are now in their 20s or entering their 30s. The law which was passed in 1998 and enacted in 2000 was created to protect children under the age of 13 from the collection of personal information. However, since age verification for adolescents is so tricky, COPPA is one of those laws that is practically unenforceable.
Most websites, social media platforms, and online games rely on the honor system hoping that underage users don’t lie about their age when creating an account, and when they do falsify their age, moderators are often told to ignore it unless it is explicitly admitted to or pointed out by another.
According to Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, a Facebook trainer told an undercover reporter, “We have to have an admission that the person is underage. If not, we just pretend that we are blind and that we don't know what underage looks like.”
"We do not allow people under 13 to have a Facebook account. If someone is is reported to us as being under 13, the reviewer will look at the content on their profile (text and photos) to try to ascertain their age."
This report seems to have triggered the social media giant to announce that it would be making a more significant effort to reduce its number of underage users. Facebook will stop short of requiring verifiable identification for account creation but said that it would be cracking down on existing accounts. Previously, moderators would only investigate those that had been explicitly pointed out as being owned by underage users. Now it will be taking a closer look at any account that is flagged for whatever reason.
“Since the [Channel 4] program, we have been working to update the guidance for reviewers to put a hold on any account they encounter if they have a strong indication it is underage, even if the report was for something else,” Facebook said in a statement.
If it suspects a user to be under 13-years-old, it will lock the account. Busted Facebookers will only be able to unlock their profiles by providing a valid form of ID that proves they are over 13.
This policy is not new, but the social media titan is just committing itself to enforcing existing rules. It may turn out to be a hassle for users who somehow end up falsely accused of being underage, but barring a better solution, it might have to be tolerated. Requiring some form of age verification such as authorizing a credit card is likely to be rejected by users both young and old.
Now if MMOs could just figure out how to get rid of the tweens, we’d all be more grateful (and yes, online games are subject to COPPA rules too).