The head of Facebook across three continents including the Middle East has backed the social media network’s age restriction, saying 13 “feels like the right time” for children to be allowed to join.
“It’s a natural time when children are moving into secondary school all around the world, it’s a time when children are coming into adulthood more in terms of becoming more grownup, more responsible, and it’s a time when I think people do want to share and want to engage,” vice-president EMEA, Nicola Mendelsohn, told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview published in the magazine on Sunday.
“This is the age that we’ve put out; people can speculate in terms of ‘is this better, is that better’ [but] this is the age, these are the rules that we’ve set down and these are the rules that people are observing all over the world. And they feel right.”
Facebook has faced double-sided concern over its age restriction.
Some argue children lie about their age and use it under 13 without the potential protections a dedicated site could provide, while others suggest opening up the site further would only give Facebook an extra revenue stream while invading children’s privacy.
At the other end of the spectrum, there have been calls for the age restriction to be lifted to 18 as Facebook is blamed for teen-related issues such as school bullying, poor grades and even suicide.
It was revealed in 2012 that the company was assessing how it could produce an under-13 version of the site, including connecting to parents’ accounts and giving parents the power to vet who their child is friends with.
The Wall Street Journal said the move was “a step that could help the company tap a new pool of users for revenue but also inflame privacy concerns”.
CEO of Common Sense Media in the US, James Steyer, said at the time that Facebook “appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders”. He added that “there is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13” and that “there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children”.
He likened Facebook to “Big Tobacco in appealing to young people – try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life”.
But others have argued a specific space for under-13s with extra protections to ensure a safe, healthy, and age appropriate environment.
The company has been quiet on the issue for some time but Mendelsohn, a mother of four, said the age restriction should not be lifted or lowered.
Concerns about social media websites such as Facebook creating psychological pressure on teenagers to have a certain number of “friends” or “likes” was partly the evolution of playground popularity, she said.
“The concerns that maybe my generation has about the next generation were always concerns that the next generation would have had about the next generation – the world’s moving too fast, it’s changing too much…” she said.
“[Facebook] is normal for all the 13-year-olds on the planet with access to the internet.
“And therefore they’ll all grow up together with all the same shared experiences in the same way they grew up going through school with the same experiences.
“So I think it’s a very exciting time to be 13.”
Two of Mendelsohn’s children are old enough to access the site, while her third-eldest is about to turn 13 – and get his first Facebook page.
“That’s going to be a big moment in our household,” Mendelsohn said.
“Certainly as a mum it feels good that someone has told me when is the right time that your children should come on line and get really involved in Facebook. It’s served our family well and serves other families well, as well.”