Facebook launches privacy campaign to protect teens

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy

Teen on computer. Image from ShutterstockFacebook, under pressure to educate teenagers on staying safe on the site, has teamed up with 19 US attorneys general to launch a privacy public awareness campaign.

Facebook and the AGs announced the campaign on Monday during a National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG)-sponsored conference devoted to digital privacy, according to CFOWorld.com.

Teaching teenagers about data privacy is going to be an uphill battle.

Facebook has a tough enough row to hoe when it comes to staying relevant with this demographic, given that many youth today find Facebook flat-out boring.

On a far more serious front, those youth who still use Facebook are using it and other social media for ends that too often turn out anti-social at best or even fatal at the most extreme.

That includes viral shaming of young women through Facebook and other social media, which has led to suicide among multiple teenaged girls: 15-year-old Audrie Pott, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, and 15-year-old Amanda Todd.

The privacy campaign will include state-specific public service announcements and other informational resources, such as an "Ask the Safety Team" video series, in which Facebook's safety team answers some of the most popular questions the site has been asked over the past few years as its team has traveled the country, according to CFOWorld.

This is a noble effort.

But I must say, these do not strike me as things to which teenagers will pay any attention, and that's unfortunate.

Of course, complicating privacy matters further are new, advanced features such as Facebook's Graph Search tool that make figuring out privacy settings harder than ever, even for those who bother to learn about privacy settings to begin with.

Facebook graph search tips

The privacy issues that rose with Graph Search were particularly acute when it came to the issues of what people can find out about minors.

Facebook in February went so far as to post an explanation of how Graph Search works for those between the ages 13 and 17, saying that many things teens tend to do on the site - such as add information to timelines or share status updates - can only be shared with a maximum of Friends of Friends.

Ditto, Facebook said, for "certain searches that could help to identify a young person by age or by their location," for which "results will only show to that person's Friends, or Friends of Friends who are also between the age of 13-17."

But information being limited to Friends, or Friends of Friends, doesn't provide much privacy. That limitation won't prevent high schoolers from passing around nude photos or other content that may lead to harassment, stalking, bullying, or damage to a young person's future.

In the end, every individual Facebook user must accept responsibility for the information they share on the social network.

It's good of Facebook to try to train teenagers to be savvy about privacy. Not to be cynical, but good luck with that.

It's hard enough to get people of any age to look into shutting down their Facebook privacy settings. But start waving information resources at young people and you can almost hear the thumb stampede as they toggle over to Instagram, WhatsApp, or whatever's now considered hipper.

I hope I'm wrong.

I hope that parents, teachers and others responsible for young people will take advantage of the new privacy materials and can better protect their loved ones from harm because of this privacy education campaign.

I hope that they can make a difference and save teenagers from the horrible fates that too many young victims have already suffered.

Parents, now's a good time to talk to your kids not just about Facebook, but overall online safety. Check out our list of tips here.


Image of teen on laptop courtesy of Shutterstock.

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4 Responses to Facebook launches privacy campaign to protect teens

  1. daniellynet · 551 days ago

    "Of course, complicating privacy matters further are new, advanced features such as Facebook's Graph Search tool that make figuring out privacy settings harder than ever, even for those who bother to learn about privacy settings to begin with."

    I have it say, I found it pretty straight forward.

    I can see it being quite confusing for new people, but if you've been using Facebook for a while it shouldn't be too hard to find out where your settings are.

    I wish they could make a centralized page with all of your privacy settings, though.

  2. Steven · 550 days ago

    What is "tough enough row to hoe when"

    • Steve · 550 days ago

      It's an agriculturally-based reference, referring to working the soil with a hoe in rocky or hard-packed earth which makes the job very difficult.

  3. Nigel · 550 days ago

    "It's hard enough to get people of any age to look into shutting down their Facebook privacy settings. But start waving information resources at young people and you can almost hear the thumb stampede as they toggle over to Instagram, WhatsApp, or whatever's now considered hipper.

    I hope I'm wrong."

    You're not wrong. The only way to get the message across to kids is for the "hipper" sites to undertake a program of educating their users. Of course, that would make them TRULY hip, security-wise.

    Alas, security itself isn't hip among most youngsters, whose concept of long-term is "next week". They want stimulation right now. It would take not only a commitment by the "hip" sites to create educational content, but also some very smart folks who know how to package that content for people whose attention span is measured in seconds, not minutes.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.