Twitter and Facebook Grapple with Age Limits
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
June 05 2012 08:00 AM ET
Heineken tests age verification via direct message on Twitter.
To shield minors from alcohol advertising, Twitter is testing an age-checking mechanism with a handful of companies including Coors Light, Miller Lite and Heineken.
If it works, the program could be part of a site-wide policy to prevent teens from following those brands and other alcohol makers.
But can a tool that relies on the honesty of kids be effective?
Young people already lie about their age to join social networks: Consumer Reports recently estimated that there are 7.5 million Facebook accounts used by kids under the age of 13. [Facebook Should Be Limited to Kids Over 14, Parents Say ]
What's to stop them or older kids from following the Silver Bullet? With first-grade math skills, anyone can adjust their birth date to qualify.
Here's how the test works: Users click "follow" on one of the companies' Twitter pages and receive a direct message with a link to a site that asks for their date of birth. Here's the message from Coors Light: "Hey! We want to send you Super Cold tweets, but we have to make sure you’re old enough. Verify your age within 24hrs … " The site asks for month, day and year of birth and then sends people right on to the Coors Lite Twitter page.
Twitter has not announced if and when it will roll out the new age verification checkpoint.
We reached out to children's watchdog organization Common Sense Media, for comment, but they declined. To guide parents, the organization rates many popular social sites, including Twitter, which it says is appropriate for ages 15 and up. [Parents Say Technology Hurts Efforts to Keep Kids Safe ]
However, the organization's CEO and founder James Steyer released his views on another social media story that hit Monday: Facebook is looking at ways to open its site to kids under 13, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Currently, any Web site catering to children under 13 must comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which includes verified parent permission and stringent limits on data sharing. But privacy advocates may prove even more daunting.
"There is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13," Steyer said. "What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people — try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life."