Parents Should Have Full Access To Children’s Facebook Accounts — California’s Proposed Bill

It’s 11 O’clock; do you know what your child’s Facebook profile is doing? If you live in California, you may soon be able to find out as the state considers passing a new Social Networking Bill.
A new California bill under the sexy title SB242, or the Social Networking Privacy Act, proposes that social media networking sites such as Facebook let parents access their children’s account; the bill would force privacy settings to their maximum level by default. The bill would also allow parents to request that images or text be removed from a social networking site.

What makes the bill particularly interesting? If it passes, social networks that don’t comply could face fines as high as 10, 000 dollars per incident. The State Senator who introduced the bill Ellen Corbett does not believe this is excessive and is particularly concerned with privacy settings “You shouldn’t have to sign in and give up your personal information before you get to the part where you say, ‘Please don’t share my personal information.”

As it stands, children under 13 are unable to join Facebook; however, there are numerous kids under the age of thirteen who lie to gain access to the site – with our without their parents’ knowledge.

While the Bill has yet to be voted on in the State Senate, social networking sites are already voicing their strong opposition. Facebook representative Andrew Noyes stated that: “This legislation is a serious threat both to Facebook’s business in California.” Indeed, it is, but it’s an issue that government, parents, and social networking sites are progressively less able to ignore.

For kids and teens, it’s a pretty scary prospect.  Letting a parent into your social networking profile is like giving them free access to every corner of your room – including the notes you passed in class and your cell phone with all its text messages. There’s also the risk that parents will go overboard and begin make unnecessary edits and requests, or worse gain private information about their children’s peers through their own child’s interactions. It also raises real challenges for families of divorce. Would a parent’s social networking rights become part of custody agreements?

For parents, however, it would likely provide piece of mind. While the temptation to abuse the privilege of monitoring a child’s social networking activity would certainly be a major issue, the ability to assure proper privacy settings are enabled would provide peace of mind. In the case of an emergency, access to a child’s social networking activity could be an essential first defense tool for parents. The main issue for parents is a personal one: where is the line between safety and invasion of privacy?

For institutions the issue of legislation surrounding minor’s use of social media is becoming difficult to ignore. Teenagers dominate popular culture; their likes and dislikes strongly influencing everything from fashion to radio. This makes it easy to forget that someone like Rebecca Black is not Paris Hilton; she’s a thirteen year old. Thirteen year olds don’t have a lot of rights; they can’t drive, vote, or buy alcohol, but with this lack of rights comes protection. Parents need to sign off on everything from field trips to tattoos. Should social media – which is arguably as risky as zip-lining if predators and privacy are taken into consideration – really be any different?

Teenagers might think so. Many parents might think so. Facebook would particularly think so, but if social networking sites want to fight bills like SB242 they’re going to have to come up with a better argument then “it’s bad for business”.

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