Jamie Butow

Monday, Oct 21 2013 02:02 PM

JAMIE BUTOW: Facebook gives itself a big gift: teen data

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    Jamie Butow, Californian community engagement coordinator.

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By Jamie Butow

If any parents out there have had any reservations about letting their teens join Facebook, here's something else to add to your "no" list.

For some time Facebook has limited those younger than 18 years old from posting publicly. That means your teen could only share status updates and photos with approved friends and with friends of friends.

Along with that, random strangers could not follow your kids' public posts.

Not anymore.

Facebook announced last week that teens will now have the ability to post publicly, and can enable the follow feature so that anyone with a Facebook account can follow their public posts.

Facebook's reasoning?

"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," Facebook wrote in a blog post. "While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services."

Let's examine this:

1. "Teens are among the savviest people using social media."

OK. But what does that mean?

Are you saying that teens are lying about their age online to get to the point where they can post publicly?

Or are you saying that teens are smart enough not to post reputation damaging information online?

While I'm sure there are many, many responsible teens out there posting on social media, it's the number of teens who are posting about their unsavory exploits that are getting the attention.

I don't understand why, but teens don't seem to understand that their public Facebook posts, Tweets and Instagram pictures could keep them from getting a job or into college one day.

I've heard from dozens upon dozens of hiring managers in Kern County who are always shocked at what teens and young adults post publicly.

Yes, they Google you. If you take nothing else away from this column, understand that.

In fact, take 30 seconds and Google your name right now. Amazing what comes up, right?

Moving on ...

2. "Whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard."

In all of the letters, comments, emails and tweets I've received from readers, never once have I heard from a teen who uses social media for civic engagement. I'm sure they are out there, but they are using other channels to get the word out about their community service projects and such.

3. "While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services."

Hmm. This seems to be the clincher.

Was Facebook backed into a corner as all other social media sites allow teens to share publicly?

I have a feeling that came into play in the discussions at headquarters.

So now teens can post publicly.

Parents, it's time to remind your teens what is and what isn't OK to post online. Remind them that -- good or bad -- their digital legacy will live forever.

Perhaps the scariest part of the changes is that Facebook is now allowing anyone to virtually follow our kids.

Teens can change their settings to allow non-friends to follow public posts. Users who choose to follow a teenager will see the public posts in their own newsfeeds.

Kind of creepy, huh?

I always liked to think that Facebook was making a small effort to establish boundaries -- a zone of safety for teens to protect them from predators and bullies. Now it seems all bets are off.

Internet safety issues aside, there's this: By posting publicly, teenagers become an opportunity for marketers. Data from public posts is collected by Facebook and given to advertisers. Teens are a huge advertising market and now Facebook has more data to sell.

NBC tech columnist Helen Popkin notes that Facebook presented this as a gift to teens, the gift to have their voices heard. But the real gift is the one Facebook gave itself, the gift of more targets for marketers.

That pretty much sums it up. Time to make sure you have that talk about digital responsibility with your teens.

Jamie Butow is the community engagement coordinator for The Bakersfield.com Network. Email her at JButow@bakersfield.com. Follow her at Facebook.com/JamieButow2, and on Twitter@JamieButow.

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