Facebook has been talking to the Federal Government about plans to let children under the age of 13 use its social-networking website, a move which raises tricky issues of marketing to pre-teens.
Facebook’s Terms of Service have a minimum age of 13 for anyone setting up an account, but many children use the social network anyway by using a fake age to create an account.
Facebook claims it disables or blocks thousands of underage accounts a day.
US newspapers have reported that Facebook wants to develop technology that would let under-13s use the site legitimately with the consent of their parents.
A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told SmartCompany that Facebook had raised the issue of allowing under-13s on the site with the government.
“The Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy regularly engages with social networking sites, like Facebook, on cybersafety matters,” the spokesperson says.
“This principally takes place through the Government’s Consultative Working Group on Cybersafety.
“Facebook is a member of this group. Through the CWG, the potential for under-13s to access Facebook has been discussed with the department.
“However, at this time the department has not sought advice from Facebook on the application of this potential policy.”
Mark Crowe, chief executive of the Australian Marketing Institute, says a move to extend Facebook to under-13s will allow Facebook to tap the demographic for new revenue.
“Obviously when it comes to any form of marketing to children, there is a high degree of sensitivity involved,” says Crowe.
“Companies must be aware that when you are marketing to children you need to be mindful of the message and of the legislative requirements around those messages and, importantly, of the people you are messaging to.
“Clearly, in a lot of those instances, it will be to the parents of children. Parents have, understandably, a high degree of concern about what messages their children receive.”
Crowe says as long as businesses take these messages on board, it is appropriate to communicate with under-13s. But he warns there are special considerations for social media.
“When it comes to social media, one needs to be clear that social media is not always necessarily a forum for marketing or, more bluntly, to sell products,” he says.
He says users see sites such as Facebook as mainly for personal, social use rather than as a marketing and advertising forum. Unless, of course, they are choosing to visit company Facebook sites.
“Obviously a conversation between Facebook and the government will take place. But whatever happens there you have to revert back to the whole issue of marketing to children and being aware of the sensitivity of the issue.”
Facebook’s move to drive more revenue comes after its initial public offering suffered with shares dropping from $US38 to $US31 since its May 18 debut, and the company itself has been threatened with lawsuits by investors who believe they were misled by the company’s underwriters.