Facebook – Why I went Undercover
There was an article published in the Melbourne Herald Sun on the 6th August about how I went undercover to see first-hand what children and teens could access on Facebook.
I have since received over two hundred comments and emails; the majority supporting what I did, some questioning what I did, and some calling me a crap mum, a paedophile, a hypocrite and using entrapment to entice children and teens. This post is to clarify some of the points presented in the newspaper article.
In June this year I published a blog post “Facebook – Two clicks away from the age of innocence”, in which I detailed how easy it was to come across extremely explicit content on many children’s and teenage profiles. This research was done using my own regular Facebook profile.
All the content was reported to Facebook, and all the explicit content and profiles posting it are still active.
After writing this initial post, I wanted to test how easy it was to set up a fake account as a child, and to see how easy it would be to access or stumble across explicit content on Facebook using a profile which was set up from the start as a minor, not as my adult profile.
I believed that if you stated you were under 18 any adult content would not be accessible, yet it is.
Facebook – My daughter was not spied on
I want to make clear that my daughter was not being spied on. The article states “Mrs Brown said she wanted to see what her 15 year old could be confronted with”
The article was not about my relationship with my daughter or her Facebook activity whatsoever. I am very proud of my daughter and trust my daughter implicitly.
It was about what any child can come across on Facebook – my child, your child or someone else’s – and they can be confronted with a great amount of offensive material through no fault or direct intent of their own, many just click a link, or install an application, or view a ‘friend-of-a-friend’s page and be faced with adult content.
Facebook – It’s just like the Real World, isn’t it?
Regardless of what people feel about me going undercover, (and it has been done before), I was not spying and did not interact with anyone. I was trying to get the message across that Facebook is not a safe haven for young teens, despite what Facebook say. Several messages I received basically told me to ‘get over it’, and ‘it’s just like the real world’, with the good and the bad, however this is not strictly true.
In the real world you know your real life friends. I need to emphasise that undercover I just clicked on random profiles, all of them accepting my friendship, without knowing a thing about me. These children had numbers of friends ranging from 400 to over 1000. I was even befriended by adults. This does not happen so easily and without so much lack of thought in the real world.
As a Child Behaviour Consultant, I work with teenagers, children and their families on a daily basis, and reading the multitude of emails and comments I received after the newspaper article shows that this is clearly a real issue for many parents.
This is what I have come across in my work, and what parents and children and teens have shown me.
- Children being groomed by adults
- Many, many cases of bullying
- Sexually explicit talk from 12 year olds
- Teenage boys discussing teenage girls as sexual objects in the most degrading way
- Discussions on rape
- Pornographic images and movies
- Applications accessible to children which ask them to rate sexual performance
- Friends in excess of 400-1000, or more
- Complete disrespect for their school, teachers and parents.
- Teens posing provocatively in underwear
- Phone numbers and addresses on display
I do understand that we have all this to deal with in the real world, but it’s easier to protect our children in the real world because we are a major part of it. On Facebook, we are explicitly excluded, unless we are ‘Friends’ with our child, and even with this status, it does not give us the knowledge of what is really happening that we, as parents, need to have to parent effectively.
Facebook is the biggest online social media hangout for kids, and it seems to have no boundaries what so ever. According to Facebook, once you are thirteen you are ready to see anything or read anything.
Ask yourself this simple question “Is it okay to show a 13 year old child an explicit pornographic movie?” I assume that most of us would agree that it is not okay, but children on Facebook may click on a link that makes this scenario a real possibility.
As we all know a child’s behaviour is affected by many factors, and this has been researched and studied for many years. Now we have a new factor to take into account, which is social media, such as Facebook, and we need to consider both its positive and negative effects on behaviour.
Without doubt, a child’s brain is in constant development throughout the teenage years, and repeated exposure to extremely adult concepts is not good for them, they simply do not have the maturity to deal with it.
The person your child will become as an adult is based on how their brain responds and interprets all their experiences and their reality during these critical years, and explicit 18+ content can only have a negative effect on personal development and values.
Facebook – What can they do?
If Facebook cared about security and safety like they say they do, then perhaps they would have at least acted on the requests I’ve made and those of the many parents and teens that contacted me, to delete explicit material on minors walls and underage children. But they haven’t.
I am not a technology expert at all but here are some suggestions that could be considered.
- Increase the staff on their security team so they can respond rapidly to reported content and remove it quickly. It does not matter if it takes 100 or 1000 staff to do this, they can afford it.
- Take a more active role in shutting down apps, pages and communities of explicit content.
- Consider linking accounts of children to adult accounts which are established and proven with I.D.
- Listen to parents and schools and work with them to come up with some solutions.
FaceBook – A Final Word
My final word is that we all need to acknowledge that Facebook is not as safe as they say it is. They talk about safety, write about safety and make videos about safety – but the explicit content is still there.
They are not actively doing enough to deal with all the explicit content, fake profiles, and bullying or making any positive stances for children’s safety.
Now you have probably heard enough from me so here is the lovely Norlim from Just Us Kids who left this comment over at Melissa’s follow up post on the Herald Sun piece, which summarises beautifully what as parents we can do.
“Parents should always get involved in the things their children get up to. They should be educated on what and where their children “hang out” even if it’s in a virtual world. Facebook isn’t a bad place – that’s like saying the world is a bad place so we shouldn’t hang out in the world and just stay home. I just think parents should set limits, and educate their children as well on the potential dangers and ensure them that while they trust their children, there are certain dangers out there that they might be unaware of and that if they were in trouble to feel confident that they can turn to their parents for help no matter what. It’s about educating both parents and children about cyber-safety, about cyber bullying and other things that might cause concern.”