Facebook: should schools report underage accounts?

 

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As the Head of ICT and a Year 8 tutor (12-13 yr olds), I regularly get called upon to investigate inappropriate Facebook activity by pupils who are not legally allowed to have a Facebook account because they are underage.

Listening to Luke DeLaney at Learning Without Frontiers in January 2011 (pictured here), he was quite clear that his organisation want to know about underage use of their social networking platform. Once they identify an underage user they have software that trawls that persons account and identifies other potentially underage users. They will delete the accounts, parental permission or not. I have no evidence this works as he claimed.

So, I am aware that many young people (under 13 years old) have accounts. Should we as a school report them? Yes, of course, and, we do. It is not our choice. However, there is a wider issue at play here. As we become aware of, and if we report and successfully get these accounts deleted, the users will probably make another account and we will effectively be driving their social networking underground. This is not a good thing. How can we guide and nurture our youngsters in the perils of social networking if they are doing it behind closed doors? It is surely best to talk about the elephant in the room.

On the other hand, if we start to delete (not deactivate) accounts as they are brought to our attention, surely we are serving the individuals concerned in the long run? If inappropriate behaviour (usually name-calling or bullying of some sort) is dealt with strictly then we will set a precedent. Pupils will become more cautious about their postings online because, should somebody else secretly divulge the content to a teacher, they will have their account deleted without being told about it. I imagine, over time, this would manifest into a more appropriate use of the sites even for those underage users. Another big reason to hold a firm line on this is because Facebook has two levels of age-appropriate accounts. Under-eighteens have a different account to adults. When lying about their age, pupils will often make themselves several years older than they are which puts them into the adult account long before they are eighteen.

Surely, as teachers, it is our responsibility to do this by the book? What do you do?

Facebook: should schools report underage accounts?

4 thoughts on “Facebook: should schools report underage accounts?

  1. This is always a tough one as in conversation with many of my Year 7 parents I find that many of them have actually allowed and given permission to their daughters to get accounts knowing full well they are lying about their age. I therefore get the ‘But My Parents Say Its Ok!’ argument from some of my pupils.

    One of our approaches obviously is education and in Year 5 and 6 (and up) we ensure there are regular discussions about issues to do with social networking so if they do get an account early we an at least make sure they don’t do anything stupid. I don’t condone it and I certainly make this known to the girls but I think it would be remiss of me to turn a blind eye.

  2. Dave Stacey says:

    Interesting post Dai, it’s something we’re wrestling with ourselves at the moment.

    I’ve got a yr 7 form and I think all but 1 of them have Facebook accounts. We’ve got no policy on this at the moment. I must confess if students are using them safely and appropriately personally I’ve got no major problem with it. (I’ve never quite got the 13 year old age limit thing. It’s something to do with a US law I believe, but I’ve never heard a rationale behind it).

    The issues emerge with inappropriate use, and I believe some problems have been exacerbated when parents have stepped in and got involved in way which has made the situation worse. Whatever we settle on we want to take parents with us rather than have it become a point of conflict.

    While I agree about your idea to delete for inappropriate behaviour I’d be more interested in something that continued to have an impact beyond yr 9. Not sure what though!

    Be interested to hear where you go with this one.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comments Dave and Brian.

    Dave, I believe the 13+ rule comes from America and originally started with YouTube. As an American law it applies to all social networking sites where data is stored in the USA. It is not strictly sensible and I imagine it will be reviewed in time. But until then we as school representatives, have no choice but to refer underage usage of such sites under Child Protection guidelines. However, I personally agree with you: it is much more sensible to educate and protect rather than lock down.

    But my hands are tied. It is not my call to make.

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