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10/16/2013

Facebook opens public posts to teens

Facebook just became both more private and more public at the same time, for teenaged users. 

The social networking giant has changed the rules for teenagers between 13 and 17. Previously, they could only publish status updates visible by friends of friends, rather than by the general public. Now, Facebook is giving them the option to post publicly, meaning that complete strangers with no connection to them at all can read their stuff.

The company is also allowing users between 13 and 17 to turn on the 'Follow' option, so that their public posts can be seen in people's newsfeeds. This enables someone who is not friends with a teenager, but wants to keep track of what they are doing, to read about it in their own timeline. They will be able to find and track teens who post publicly.

Facebook is trying to be somewhat responsible for teen privacy, by changing the default sharing settings on teenaged accounts. Previously, any post made by a teen user would be automatically visible by their friends, and their friends' friends. Now, however, posts are automatically set to be visible only by friends. Teens can change that setting manually to make it public, but if they do that, they are warned twice before being allowed to go ahead.

“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,” said Facebook.

That's a bit of a blanket statement, though, isn't it? Sure, there are plenty of teens out there who are sensible and safe. But there are lots of others who haven't got a clue.

In spite of all the warnings and privacy measures, this could create problems for teens at risk. Even without the option to post publicly, plenty have fallen into trouble. One teen was stalked by a man in his thirties on Facebook, while another was flashed by a man who tracked her down via status updates on the social network. And then there’s murderer Peter Chapman, who used Facebook to stalk his victims.

Sure, teens want to be heard. But sometimes, the wrong people hear them, and even when privacy settings were higher, they were still in danger. It's up to the parents to teach them how to use social networking properly, but of course, many parents don't have the first idea about social media, or don't care – and even those that do may be trying to teach kids who don't want to listen. There are lots of 13-year-olds who think that they know everything.

What do you think? Should Facebook be opening up public posts to people under 18?

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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