By John D. Sutter CNN - And if so, under what conditions?
Those are the questions bloggers and Twitter users are batting around the Internet on Monday following a news report saying Facebook is looking into ways it could let kids under the age of 13 use the site with parental consent.
Currently, Facebook bans children younger than 13.
Data from Microsoft Research and Consumer Reports, however, show that many kids use the site anyway, often with their parents' knowledge. A 2011 Consumer Reports survey found 7.5 million people younger than 13 use the site; nearly a third of 11-year-olds and more than half of 12-year-olds use Facebook with their parents' knowledge, according to a 1,007-person survey supported by Microsoft Research.
Proponents of lifting Facebook's under-13 ban say letting young kids on Facebook with the help of adults would allow them to use the social network more safely.
"Whether we like it or not, millions of children are using Facebook, and since there doesn't seem to be a universally effective way to get them off the service, the best and safest strategy would be to provide younger children with a safe, secure and private experience that allows them to interact with verified friends and family members without having to lie about their age," Larry Magid writes at Forbes.com.
Magid says Facebook for kids should not have ads and there need to be "extra privacy protections" that would involve parents helping their kids to use the social network safely.
Others say Facebook is trying to profit from the under-13 crowd.
Common Sense Media, an advocacy group, compared Facebook to "Big Tobacco."
"With the growing concerns and pressure around Facebook's business model, the company appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders," the group's CEO, James Steyer, said in a statement.
"But here's the most important issue: There is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13. Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of children. What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people -- try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life.
"What's next? Facebook for toddlers?"
The Wall Street Journal on Monday published a front-page report saying Facebook is looking into ways to give younger children access to the social-networking site, which has more than 900 million users around the world and which made its lackluster stock market debut last month.
"Mechanisms being tested include connecting children's accounts to their parents' and controls that would allow parents to decide whom their kids can 'friend' and what applications they can use," the newspaper said, citing anonymous sources who are familiar with the dealings. "The under-13 features could enable Facebook and its partners to charge parents for games and other entertainment accessed by their children, the people said."
In a statement issued to CNN and other news outlets, Facebook did not deny looking into the issue but said it does not have anything formal to announce:
"Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services. We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment."
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