Is Facebook Safe? A guide for parents
JUN 27, 2023
Is Facebook Safe? A guide for parents
Facebook was launched in 2004 and is widely considered the first social media platform. True, other sites like MySpace existed before, but Facebook brought social media to the masses and in many ways is still the king. It is declining in popularity with younger audiences, but with 2.9 billion monthly active users across the world, it is still the largest social network.
Is Facebook Safe for Kids?
No. Facebook was initially created for college students and any attempts to make it safe for younger audiences have clearly been little more than an afterthought. Risks like exposure to explicit content, potential for dangerous communication, mechanisms leading to excessive screen time, weak parental controls, and backdoors to the broader internet all combine to pose significant risks to young kids and teens.
Risks to Kids on Facebook
- Exposure to explicit content
- Potential for dangerous communication
- Addictive features
- Weak parental controls
- External internet links
Each child is different but it is unlikely that even older teenagers today have the digital skills and maturity to successfully navigate some pretty serious dangers on the platform. And those dangers are causing catastrophic damage to the mental health of kids today.
Below, we took a closer look at a handful of key areas to demonstrate how Facebook opens doors that most parents likely want to keep closed—at least for as long as their kids are kids.
Explicit Content on Facebook
Like any platform that allows users to post their own content, exposure to explicit content is always going to be a big risk. Facebook does have guidelines for mature content, but those guidelines still allow for plenty of material you likely don’t want your kids exposed to. For example, Facebook’s guidelines “restrict” nudity and sexual activity, but make exceptions for “awareness campaigns or artistic projects.”
Even if their guidelines were more stringent, inappropriate content would still be an issue. With nearly 3 billion users, a lot of adult content makes its way onto the platform for anyone to find.
Dangerous Communication or Tracking
Facebook’s history of collecting personal information and location tracking came to light in 2019 when the corporation was grilled by Congress. The short version: in addition to detailed location tracking users can opt-in to—including a “Nearby Friends” feature that notifies users when their Facebook friends are near— the platform still tracks location even when a user opts out. Opting out of location services will prevent other Facebook users from seeing your child’s location but Facebook still collects location data to serve their ads business.
Needless to say, none of this is good news for parents worried about their child’s safety online. Features like “Nearby Friends” pose the most immediate risk—your child might unwittingly have connected with a predator on Facebook and that predator could then be notified when near the physical location of your child, making it easy to arrange an in-person meeting.
Excessive Screen Time
Facebook pioneered many of the approaches to social networking that make all these platforms so addicting. The “feed” feature, endless scrolling, discover tabs that serve up content from across the platform, and other algorithmically-driven features are all designed to keep users on the platform for as long as possible.
Facebook makes money by serving users ads tailored to their interests. The more a user is active on the platform, the more money Facebook can make. These features have evolved over the past two decades to become extremely sophisticated and are skilled at getting and grabbing a user’s attention. Most kids are not ready to balance the allure of the screen with real life.
Lack of Parental Controls
Facebook has added some controls to help limit exposure to digital threats. Within your child’s account, for example, you can choose to limit what content shows up in their feed or who they can connect and chat with. But these controls offer very limited protection and a child could easily navigate to these settings within their account and change them back. The parental control Facebook offers does very little to offer parents peace of mind.
Easy Internet Access
Most people use Facebook through the free app on their phone and that app includes an internal browser for opening up any links shared on the platform. These “backdoors” to the internet are one of the most common ways kids have learned to bypass parental controls that block web access on their cell phones.
So, in addition to the harmful content available directly on Facebook, a whole world of potentially harmful content is at a child’s fingertips through links. Bad actors are aware of this too and have become pretty clever at posting “teaser” content directly on Facebook that is unlikely to get flagged but is enticing enough to lead users to 3rd-party sites where no restrictions exist.
Is Facebook Marketplace safe?
Quick side note on one specific feature of Facebook: Facebook Marketplace.
This section of the app and website allows users to post items for sale. It’s extremely useful and very popular. But all of the risks that exist on Facebook generally also apply specifically to Facebook Marketplace. It’s not safe for kids, and even adults should be careful about any interactions originating there. Look for red flags to avoid scams and be very careful about giving out personal information or posting photos that might inadvertently reveal personal information (e.g. license plates).
Facebook Marketplace Safety Tips
Some scammers will use Facebook Marketplace to trick users into sending them money. They might ask for money through external apps, like Venmo, before making any in-person contact with the buyer. It is important to be cautious when buying from strangers.
One trick is to go to their seller biography and see their ratings and how many sales they have. If they don’t have these, you can also see their actual Facebook profile. Here you can see how old their profile is and if they have photos that show they are a real person. If the profile is brand new or doesn’t have any photos, take caution.
A survey of almost 4,000 children found that 43 percent of those aged between 8 and 13 years old are talking to people they have never met in real life on social media and gaming platforms.CSK Annual Report, 2020
What Does This All Mean for Your Kids?
Far from being an exception, Facebook is just one of many social media platforms that together are proving to be harmful—especially to kids. In fact, a growing body of research can show a causal relationship between Facebook use and decreased mental health. Furthermore, social scientist Jean Twenge warns of an impending mental health crisis as the research is beginning to show how social media makes all of us feel more lonely.
When it was rolled out on college campuses betweewn 2004-2006, Facebook caused over 300,000 students to become depressed.– Levy, et. al, 2021
The conversation among experts about concerns like anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation is now shifting from correlation to causation—social media isn’t just part of a concerning trend, it is contributing to it.
As a parent, this is obviously alarming. But it shouldn’t be overwhelming. If you’re not confident your child is ready for a platform like Facebook, don’t risk it. It’s easier to prevent damage than try to rehabilitate after it’s occurred.
The best protection for kids against online dangers is an open, trusting relationship between caregiver and child so do your best to communicate your reasons for why you aren’t comfortable giving them access to Facebook just yet.
Those conversations can be difficult for a child to accept, but when discussing the context of all the dangers facing them, it makes it easier for parents to make it clear that it’s a reasonable decision and made out of love. And fortunately, there are options out there that allow parents to say yes to connection without opening the door to all the dangers.
If your child is ready for their own phone, check out our guide to a kid’s first phone or take a look at Gabb’s lineup of smart tech that was designed with safety as the top priority. Gabb phones look and perform like the best phones available, but they don’t come with internet, social media, or unsafe apps.
Looking for community?
If you’re a parent and often feel overwhelmed by raising your kids with all the technology today, trust us, you are not alone. Comment below or follow us on social media to join a growing community of parents who are banding together to help their families thrive in a digital world.