With 1.3 billion people registered, Facebook is bigger than most countries. And it is a country that most of our teens are wandering through alone; trying to figure out the customs, morality and what will get you kicked out for being an idiot.
We hear the stories. We know that a lot of bad stuff goes down on Facebook between teens. (Though my 13-year-old son swears that they only use Facebook for the messaging service, and no one posts anymore. Instagram, Snapchat and other sites are where the action is.)
The manager of safety for Facebook, Nicky Jackson Colaco, says that Facebook is trying hard to make the site safe and compelling for teens. She says the first line of defense is making sure that everyone on the site uses their real names. This goes for adults as well as kids, Facebook believes that the "real self" idea is more accountable and real identity is the core of safety.
This means that Facebook has algorithims and employees searching out pseudonyms, pets and general fakers throughout its site.
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She said that Facebook runs the largest neighourhood watch program; there are teams of people all over the world who are watching and pulling down content 24/7. Which can alternatively creep you out as a parent concerned about your own (and your kids') privacy, or make you happy that someone has an eye on what's going on out there.
Colaco says that the psychological and emotional effects of bullying are very difficult to deal with as a company. She said that most of what is called bullying on Facebook, is actually "friendly fire" between friends or acquaintances.
She says that 80 per cent of the time, teens will take down a photo or a post when they are asked to do so. And their research shows that it is best handled by the teens themselves. In order to facilitate teens doing the work, Facebook created a "social reporting flow" through which teens can block, ask for help, or ask the poster to take offending photos and posts down.
Facebook even has a group of engineers who study compassion online so that the language and the methods are as teen-friendly as possible. Teens, she says, don't want to identify as being bullied; they want to avoid looking weak. Bullying is a problem that takes place in public, and so the best way to deal with it is in private.
If a teen (or an adult) doesn't like a post or photo, they can choose to report it by clicking on the right hand drop down arrow. If you click on Report/Block this box appears:
Then you can do this:
Alternatively, if you say the post is harassment this dialogue box appears:
If you choose to send the post to a third party to get advice, you can do that. That third party does not have to be on Facebook and is hopefully a parent, teacher, coach or someone else who will help deal with the situation as opposed to flaming the fires. The subject line is pre-written by Facebook (using some of that compassion research) but you can change the wording:
There is a choice to send the report to Facebook at many points in the flow, but Colaco says that very few end up being reported to them.
Colaco stressed that it is important to keep kids off Facebook until they are 13 because the settings are different for 13 - 18 year olds. Teens' information is not searchable by Google; there is no location information, and their information is left out of social advertising. Facebook announced yesterday that they have changed the default settings so that the default sharing settings are now set to Friends only. Teens also have to choose to make their posts public.
But if they lie about their age, all their settings will change when they become 18 in Facebook time and their data is much more public. It is hard to change your age backwards once it is set, so that adults can't decide to regress for sinister reasons. This is an issue, since most teens do join Facebook before the age of 13.
Unfortunately, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, does not have any of these tools yet. Teens are now living more visually than ever, and that is where a lot of bullying takes place. I hope and challenge Facebook to get Instagram up to speed on these issues soon.
Facebook has a bullying hub with explanations of their tools, and links. I strongly recommend that parents read through the information contained there. I also recommend that parents are on Facebook with their kids, not to spy (but a little spying is okay) but so that you understand what social media is about, and what kinds of things get posted.
It's a different world out there and teens are communicating in strange, and sometimes wonderful, ways. You wouldn't allow your kids to wander in a new country alone. Don't let them Facebook alone either.
What do you think about teens and Facebook?
Image credit: BURGER/phanie/Phanie Sarl/Co