Facebook has made what might seem like a trivial change to their sharing policy, but one that has drawn a lot of fire from various advocacy groups. The change, described by Facebook,
Up until today, for people aged 13 through 17, the initial audience of their first post on Facebook was set to "Friends of Friends" - with the option to change it.
Going forward, when people aged 13 through 17 sign up for an account on Facebook, the initial audience of their first post will be set to a narrower audience of "Friends.
Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard. So, starting today, people aged 13 through 17 will also have the choice to post publicly on Facebook.
Now, Facebook's policy about preventing teens from posting publicly has been one of the few things that has gotten the company praise in the security realm. Obviously, preventing teens' posts from being seen publicly is important in preventing bullies and sexual predators from interacting with their posts. Obviously, the responses have been varied.
We'll start with the positive. Many people are excited that the default setting has been changed from "Friends of Friends" to "Friends," which makes sense to me. This allows all posts to default to only those you choose, again helping to prevent bullying.
The ability to post publicly, however, is not being received as well. There are a number of reasons for the response. First is the security issues, which we can all understand. Central Florida has recently been going through the suicide of a 12-year-old girl over cyber bullying by 2 young girls, 12 and 14. With a recent arrest in the case, it is certainly a strange time to make this change, but the problem has become so common, no time would work.
On the other hand, another issue at hand is the purpose for the change. Facebook explains it in the above quote as a way for teens express themselves on topics of importance. But, why does Facebook care about the intended audience for a teen's views? Because, if a post is public, it can be used in Facebook marketing.
Getting everyone to share everything that ever happens to them is very profitable for Facebook. Marketing to the highly impressionable teen crowd could be even more profitable for Facebook, but they have to be able to provide information to their advertisers to do so. Allowing teens to post publicly gives them the ability to do just that.
Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy said,
They're hitting kids from a neurological weak spot. Kids don't have the same kind of impulse control that adults do.
That is exactly what advertisers are hoping for. Since Facebook is known for controversial privacy policies and not reversing decisions, all we can do is live in this new world. Maybe this will be the thing that starts the member exodus.