Facebook – Why I went Undercover

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.

Facebook could;

  • 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.”

Internet Safety Advice

Happy Child

Facebook in the News

Playground cybercop: schools hire firms to monitor students online

My Fake Facebook Profile

Facebook positives and negatives

75 Million Facebook users underage

UK Parents spy on their kids Facebook accounts – study

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Nathalie Brown

Child Behaviour Consultant at Easy Peasy Kids
Child Behaviourist and researcher. Creator of "Less tantrums. More smiles". I look at the bigger picture and think outside the box when working with children and their behaviour. Their world is different. As adults we sometimes forget this. Happiness Creator in my spare time. Eater of chocolate and cake.

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  1. Well done Nathalie. I thought what you did was a fantastic exercise in how far reaching Facebook can be.

    I’ll tell you what my dilemma is. I’m not sure I want to be friends with my children on Facebook. I want my children to have their own space to grow without me hovering too close.

    Having said that, I do worry about social media. Not so much for my daughter, if she carries on how she is she’ll be very sensible.

    But my 8 year old has about 400 friends on Moshi Monsters and I have set his privacy settings to the most restricted level ie he can’t type his own messages. He can only choose pre-approved sentences. He openly admits he has no idea who any of these ‘friends’ are. He just asked and they said yes. So maybe I would be his friend on Facebook.

    But then again on Facebook you have the option of sending out a status to a particular group so effectively you can exclude a parent from seeing a status. Or I’ve also heard that kids set up two profiles, one that their parents can see and one their parents can’t.

    It’s tricky, very very tricky.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

  2. That’s scary, Nathalie. I guess I’ve been living in a bubble of innocence as my 8 yo is nowhere near getting a FB profile. However, the comment about Moshi Monsters and other online games has me worried. I’ve told my son over and over again that he is not to talk to anyone online, but I don’t sit there with him and watch what he does. I think I will for a while…

  3. I would attempt to keep my children off facebook for as long as humanly possible. Because if adults don’t understand that facebook isn’t private, no matter what your settings are, how can we expect children to? Not to mention that children can’t conceive of the consequences of their posts.

  4. I think what you did was a real eye opener for us all.

  5. Fantastic follow up, Nathalie. It would be nice to see all this media coverage Facebook is getting have some effect. Well done for continually pushing the subject. xx

  6. marina haddow says

    Well done. What you did was a real eye opener to parents! Such a gutsy move!

  7. This post was a real eye opener. My kids are only 4 and 5 but I already dread them going on social media sites when they are older.

  8. Jenny H says

    Wow! I don’t have teenagers yet but I did believe that once my kids reached the allowed age of facebook there would be NO harm in letting them just do whatever they pleased on facebook… okay, not WHATEVER they pleased but that I didn’t need to watch or warn them over anything. This post really surprised me genuinly and what I LOVE most is that you suggest ways to improve facebook. My husband who has 20+ staff says his biggest annoyance is when his staff comes and complains and then thinks they can walk off… he always says “Don’t come and complain unless you have some ideas on ways to improve what you aren’t happy with”. Thanks for this!

  9. The Internet can be a very scary place, for both young and old 🙂

  10. Deanna says

    I think what you did was a great exercise… we have a 17 month old daughter and are quite frankly nervous about when it comes to the time where she is exposed to the cyber world of social media and easy access to anything and everything.. and even anyone… things sure have changed since we were younger and I think as parents we have to take every step to be aware of what our children are faced with and do everything we can to prepare them to respond to all sorts of situations with a level of responsibility for their own safety and security. I say good on you!

  11. I just want to say i think what you did was very brave. You have opened up alot of parents eyes im sure.

  12. bubble936 says

    To be honest i was not aware that all this content was so easily available to kids on facebook.
    I do believe that we need to make our kids more aware of the potential dangers and educate/guide them so that they can use it within safe limits.
    facebook should also help us by removing all the unsuitable content..

  13. This is a really insightful post Nathalie and somewhat scary to say the least. We live in a world of cyberspace, internet friendships and social media and our children will know no different. As parents I think it’s our responsibility and duty of care to educate ourselves with what’s out there to better protect our children. What you’ve done gives you (and ultimately your readers) a better understanding of the potential dangers that lie within the realms of FaceBook for our kids. Well done!

  14. Fabulous article. I’ve had friends displaying their addresses and when their husband is away and so forth, without giving any regard to who may actually be reading their posts. Don’t have false sense of security regarding Facebook’s “security” settings.

  15. Well done Nathalie!
    I cannot see how anyone could critisise you doing what some may be happy to turn a blind eye to and simple “not know”.
    It is a very very scarey place, the online world. Facebook needs to sit up and address these issues. It is simple pathetic that breastfeeding is unallowed but young girls in their underwear is ok? WTF?

  16. Nathalie this is so well done. I just watched “Trust” last night a movie I am reviewing on the same topic and it showed how easily things can happen even when we think we are watching.

    It is something we need to be aware of in this new age of technology

  17. Thank you for the interesting article, it has given me a few things to check and double check on all of my families accounts.

  18. Narelle Rock says

    My eldest has just turned 13, we refuse to let him have Facebook, he has an email but I know the password and check it regularly, I don’t believe it is spying, in the end they are still kids and while living under my house I have every right to know what they are up to!

  19. Gael Macpherson says

    Well done, Nathalie, for your efforts to raise awareness of this issue. I have seen some horrifying and explicit material on facebook when others have posted links asking for people to report certain profiles.
    With all the money facebook is pouring into changing their site to compete with other social networks and platforms one would have hoped those changes would include increased security, or at least greater resources allocated to responding to complaints and reports.

  20. I am with you 100% on this one. As a parent of two of my own young children and five step children, two of which are under the age of 13 and one who has just turned 13 we are regularly reporting their attempts at creating fraudulent Facebook profiles, where they claim they are 18 or older. I personally believe that even 13 is far too young to have a Facebook account. I have seen and read many posts from children in this age bracket and some of the comments are simply gruesome and tasteless. I believe that Facebook should only be permitted to those over the age of 18 and the requirement that some form of identification to prove that you are of age should be in place. I doubt it will ever happen, which makes me feel sick inside. As parents our hands are basically tied, they can access Facebook from anywhere and everywhere these days and there is nothing to stop anyone, regardless of their age creating these profiles 🙁

  21. KatherineB says

    WOW. Well done, and the final paragraph by Norlim summed it up perfectly. Thank you.

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