Age Verification on Social Networking Sites

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Today, social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace are some of the most visited websites on the Internet. Minors have played a significant role in the popularity and success of social networking. With children having such an active presence on these types of sites, parents and legislators alike are concerned about the child’s online safety. A common suggestion is age verification. Ideally, age verification would exclude users over a specified age or under a specified age. However, age verification for social networking sites has its flaws. In Adam Thierer’s article, “Social Networking and Age Verification: Many Hard Questions; No Easy Solutions” he discusses the issue of children’s online safety. Thierer argues the potential pitfalls in age verification and emphasizes value of education. In my opinion, age verification is ineffective safeguard, may prove dangerous by creating a false sense of security, and is an inferior safety measure when compared to education. The broad goal of age verification is to protect children from cyber-stalkers, cyber-bullies, and most importantly, child predators. I think Thierer makes a strong argument when he puts the problem of childhood abductions into perspective. Thierer points out that an overwhelming majority of abductions are by an acquaintance, not a stranger. He cites the findings of the 2002 NISMART survey from the U.S. Department of Justice. The survey shows that less than one tenth of one percent of abductions are from total strangers. This is a much smaller percentage than I would have guessed or what shows like “To Catch a Predator” would have you believe. It seems that age verification may reduce stranger abductions, but it would do very little in reducing ov... ... middle of paper ... ...effectual in reducing overall abductions. Moreover, teens tend to seek out the companionship and will likely circumvent security. Age verification creates a false sense of security because of the general misinterpretation of the term “verified”. Users are more likely to let their guard down and a layer of credibility is added to an online predator once he has thwarted the verification process. Lastly, I feel Adam Thierer’s metaphors for social networking and online safety are applicable. Facebook and MySpace are the modern day shopping malls and roller rinks. It is indeed true that the same commonsense safety measures still apply in the virtual world of the Internet. Education, both for the parent and the child are paramount. Although the pool fence, age verification, can prevent trouble, ultimately learning to swim is a superior safeguard against drowning.
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