Profanity, younger users an issue on Facebook

Ronny Kerr · May 24, 2011 · Short URL:

Mark Zuckerberg wants to register users younger than 13; meanwhile, 47% of users see profanity

Kids and curse words: no matter how hard you try to keep them apart, they always seem to find each other.

Here are two of the biggest stories to emerge this week concerning Facebook, and how they’re related.

First, a discussion has been reignited about whether the globally pervasive social network should be allowed to register children aged under 13. Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks so, and his main argument is that it could prove to be a powerful educational tool.

"That will be a fight we take on at some point," Zuckerberg said. "My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age."

He doesn’t exactly specify how, but Zuckerberg thinks everything will be social in the future, from commerce to gaming to education.

"Because of the restrictions we haven't even begun this learning process," Zuckerberg said. "If they're lifted then we'd start to learn what works. We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe."

Second, an ill-timed report from Reppler released this week revealed that, in a survey of 30,000 Facebook users, 47 percent of those have profanity on their walls. Of those, 80 percent have a wall post or comment with profanity from a friend. In total, 56 percent of wall posts and comments with profanity come from the user’s friend.

Users are twice as likely to use profanity on their own Facebook wall than in their comments. The most popular curse word is some derivation of “f*ck,” followed by “sh*t” and “b*tch.”

Your gut reaction, if you’re not all about kids with potty mouths, is to think that Facebook is crazy for wanting children younger than 13 on the site. Why would we submit them to all that terrible language, right?

On the other hand, Consumer Reports recently published results from a survey demonstrating that more than a third of the 20 million active minors on Facebook in the past year were under 13 already. Basically, if a kid wants to get on Facebook, they’ll figure out how to lie about their birthday, and they’ll get exposed to all that rubbish anyway.

And Facebook is powerless in preventing that from happening.

If, however, Facebook was allowed to permit under-13 registrants, the service would have much more control over the experience of those young users. That means having tight control on explicit content, from language used by friends to links posted to photos shared.

None of these problems will be going away anytime soon, so it’s interesting to see how the conversation evolves over time.

image source.

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