Are you not a fan of Facebook?
Not really. It’s a useful part of our communication system. We can reach friends around the world (as ex-pats, that’s very important) and we can also trade messages with friends when cell-phones aren’t to hand or convenient. But I keep being reminded that Facebook isn’t there for my convenience – if it were, I would have to pay for it.
Do you have this attitude with all Social Media? Twitter? G+? Tumblr?
To some degree. As a writer, I’m keen to use whatever methods I can to promote my work, and these days Social Media is the best way to reach people. But Twitter doesn’t bombard me with adverts, and G+ is serving a different function for me than Facebook – it’s not for general conversation and swapping photos, it’s a place where I meet other writers, people I don’t already know.
So why let your daughter get a Facebook account?
The basic answer is because she asked. Her friends use Facebook and she was curious about it. We talked it over with her, showed her what a Facebook account looks like, what to watch out for, and let her think about it. After two weeks, she was still interested, so we signed her up.
Are you worried?
Well, yes. Facebook is an aggressive environment. They’re trying to earn money for their shareholders, and the protections available for users are manipulated on a regular basis to make it easier for the company to harvest personal information and target advertising. My daughter is bright, but she’s also a key demographic – just beginning to earn money for herself, growing a circle of friends and interested in the world of media. If the hooks get set in her now, she could be milked for cash for the rest of her life.
Yuck. So why not say no?
We have, for a couple of years. However, Social Media isn’t going away. It’s going to evolve and change, but it’s a part of the world my daughter is growing up in. Cars probably kill more people each year than Social Media, but it’s better to teach your kid to drive than expect them to rely on public transport for the rest of their lives. Yes, signing her up for Facebook felt a little like booking her a cabin on the Titanic, but it’s a good place to begin. She can learn to manipulate Facebook, to keep as much of herself hidden from the advertisers as possible, to screen who she adds to her friends list, to consider what she posts before she presses that button.
What, specifically, did you warn her against?
We tried the old adages. Never post anything you don’t think is necessary, true or kind. Never post anything about anyone you wouldn’t say to their face. If you’re talking direct to a friend, do it in a message, not a post. Don’t add people as friends just because you know them or know of them.
Aren’t you worried she’ll spend hours wasting time on Facebook?
No, because we still govern her access. Without her own computer and no internet access through her phone, she has to use the PC. And her time on that is already monitored and restricted by the fact that it’s the work machine for the house.
Is it really that important for her?
Right now she wants a Facebook account because she thinks it’ll be a fun thing to have. However, these days it’s unthinkable that someone wouldn’t have an email address, whereas ten years ago you could’ve gotten by without one. In five years time, Social Media and portable computing, smartphones and wireless will have collided to the extent that a social media presence will be as inevitable as a phone number or email. At the moment we’re all concerned that nothing on the internet ever goes away, but in a few years you’ll NEED to have an internet persona because it will affect every other aspect of your life.
Er…you’re sounding a little weird. Do you have any evidence for that?
Sorry. No, I’m extrapolating from available data*. But it’s a fair guess. Five years ago saw the launch of the iPad, and now millions of people use tablets in their everyday life. People update Social Media from their phones, adding their location without thought, giving verdicts on everything from music to shopping and restaurant experiences, things that influence other people to a startling degree. “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t a best seller because it’s a brilliantly written story. (Sorry, it’s not. And yes, I really do know.)
Should other people let their children have Facebook accounts?
Other people do, obviously. What other people ought to do…Well, I think they ought to make sure they can monitor their child’s use of Social Media until the child reaches their majority. If your kid has a smartphone with a data plan that they use to run their Social Media account, it’s very important that you’re in their friends list to know what’s being said. On the other hand, I don’t think it’ll be long before Facebook adopts the G+ model allowing people to easily post to specific groups within their Facebook friends, cutting out parents automatically.
But I think it’s important that parents understand social media is here to stay, and learning to use social media is important, or it’ll use you. Help your child go in with their eyes open and shields up.
*making it up