What? Is there an age limit?

A friend of mine told me that her 11-year-old daughter has an account both on Facebook and Instagram. “Age limit in those services is actually 13”, I said. “Oh, is it? But all of her friends are using them, too”, she shrugged.

It might seem irrelevant – and very American – that popular social media services have an age limit of 13. Was it up to the companies behind themselves, there wouldn’t be age restrictions at all. Why do they exist then?

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Picture: Sarah Good, user of goSupermodel

It’s a requirement, not a recommendation

It’s actually a law Facebook and Instagram are dealing with. The mandate for age limit comes from USA’s federal law COPPA, The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. According to the law, sites that collect personal information, such as whole name and email address, aren’t allowed to sign on anyone under the age of 13.

So, it’s forbidden in the law for kids under 13 to use some social media services. Even though companies don’t like the law, they want users to obey. For example Facebook emphasizes the age limit is a requirement instead of a recommendation.

Companies don’t like the law.

Alcohol is not for kids either

However, there are other factors than law that justify having age limits. Compare it with alcohol for instance. You probably won’t let your underage kid drink alcoholic beverages. Why? Yes, it’s prohibited by the law. But it’s also not meant for kids, right?

Exactly the same goes for social media services. Most of them are targeted to youth and grown-ups. Decisions like when, how and to whom to reveal personal information are not something kids should make themselves.

It makes sense that kids don’t enter the adult world too soon. It makes sense to have extra protection when it comes to young children’s privacy.

What do you think? Is it ok if your 11-year-old becomes friends with an online acquaintance with her full identity? Is it in general fine that she spends time in a community with grown-ups?

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About the author:

Pia Edman, watAgame

Pia Edman worked as a Finnish Community Manager at watAgame from 2009 to 2015. She has several years of experience in working with online communities and online safety as well as with digital content creation and digital advertising. Pia has a master’s degree in Finnish language.

  • Tommi

    October 10, 2014 at 13:59

    Just a small note. It’s not against the law for companies to sign on kids under the age of 13. It’s just difficult because the companies have to obtain VERIFIABLE parental consent for gathering personal information and they have to provide reasonable means for the parent to review that information. The result of the COPPA Act is that it’s just EASIER to forbid kids under the age of 13 from signing up.

    • watAgame

      October 13, 2014 at 08:33

      You are absolutely correct. Since the parental consent has to verifiably come from a parent, the consent has to be in writing which means a letter or a fax. Another option is a video message. Most companies find these consent submitting methods complicated and therefore decide to go with the age limit of 13.