Facebook Privacy For Teens: 5 Facts

Facebook has again changed its privacy settings, enabling features that affect younger users. Here's what you should know.

Kristin Burnham, Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

October 17, 2013

4 Min Read

Facebook is changing its privacy settings again, this time with a few new updates that impact its youngest users: 13- to 17-year-olds.

According to Facebook, when new users in this age group sign up for an account, the initial audience of their first post will be set to "Friends." Previously, this setting was set to "Friends of Friends." Facebook will also give teens the option to post publicly and opt in to the Follow feature, which they were not able to do before.

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with Altimeter Group, says that Facebook may have felt pressure from LinkedIn, which recently opened up membership to minors. "LinkedIn recently announced that teens could have pages, so that creates a situation in which there's a bit more pressure on Facebook to provide a similar level of openness for teens," she said in an interview.

[ Facebook has eliminated a setting that keeps you unsearchable. Read more: Facebook Unfriends Another Privacy Setting. ]

Now more than ever, Etlinger advised, parents need to take an active role in understanding how social media privacy works and talk to their children about it. "There's a lot of pressure on parents because of the complexity of social platforms and the way they're different from each other," she said. "Parents need to sit down and have a thoughtful chat with their children about the activities that could get them in trouble, the implications of opening up your profile to strangers, how information online lasts forever and how it could affect college and future employers."

Here's a deeper look into Facebook's latest changes, their implications and privacy settings specifically for teens.

1. Your last privacy setting sticks.
Teens who sign up for Facebook now will automatically have their sharing options set to Friends -- a good move to protect new users from inadvertently sharing content with more people than they want. This means that photos and links they share, as well as status updates, will be visible only to those people with whom they are friends.

However, if you change the audience of a post on a one-time basis -- to share an update publicly, for example -- be aware that unless you use the audience selector to change your privacy setting back to Friends, all future posts will be public. This is not unique to teen Facebook users; the same holds true for everyone else.

2. Strangers may be able to contact minors via Chat or Messages.
While Facebook does put some measures in place to ensure teens are safe while using the Chat feature, there are some instances in which they may be contacted by someone they don't know. This includes a friend of a friend who includes the minor in a message along with some of their mutual friends; a member of a group a minor is in who messages them or includes them in a message; or someone who has their contact information -- a phone number, for example, or an email address.

To turn chat off, click the Chat tab, usually found at the bottom of your Facebook page. Click the gear icon in the top-right of the Chat box and select "Turn Off Chat." Select the option you want -- either turning off chat for all friends, some friends or select friends -- then click Okay. Note that when chat is off, messages from friends go to your inbox. This does not prevent you from receiving messages from everyone.

If you receive an abusive message, you can report it to Facebook. To do this, open the message you want to report, click the gear icon at the top and choose Actions. Then, click "Report Spam or Abuse."

To block someone, click the privacy icon at the top-right of any Facebook page. Then choose "How do I stop someone from bothering me?" and enter the name or email address of the person you want to block. That person will not be notified that you have blocked them.

3. Teens can opt in to the Follow feature.
Facebook's "Follow" feature lets you share posts, pictures and links with people you're not friends with. Followers can only see public posts and posts you share directly with this group of people. Previously, minors were not able to turn on the Follow feature.

4. Facebook notifies teens when they post publicly.
Facebook is adding an extra reminder to alert teens when they're about to post something publicly. When they choose "Public" in the audience selector, they'll see a reminder that the post can be seen by anyone, not just their friends. The notification will also include a button to change the post's privacy. If they choose to continue posting publicly, Facebook will notify them again with a reminder that reads, "Tip: Sharing with Public means anyone (not just people you know) may see your post."

5. Facebook protects some information from search.
While minors can now opt to post updates, links and photos publicly -- which means the information becomes searchable by anyone -- there is some information about minors that Facebook does not index for search. This includes minors' contact information, school and birthday.

About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior writer. Kristin's writing has earned an ASBPE Gold Award in 2010 for her Facebook coverage and a Min Editorial and Design Award in 2011 for "Single Online Article." She is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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