Facebook Under Fire for Decision to Make Teens’ Posts Public

Facebook announced this week that it would allow teenage users between 13 and 17 to make their posts public so that they can be seen by anyone on the social network, underscoring the competition between today’s social platforms to reach the teen audience and attract advertisers. Previously, the posts of teenage users could only be viewed by friends and friends of friends. While drawing criticism from privacy advocate groups, the move will enable Facebook to operate more like its rival Twitter.

Twitter currently allows teens to share publicly and, unlike Facebook, also permits users to post anonymously or under pseudonyms.

“Analysts said Facebook risks losing the next generation of young users if it doesn’t keep pace with competitors,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “But some privacy advocates are more concerned about public posts on Facebook than on other sites because of its vast reach. It has 1.2 billion users world-wide, roughly five times as many as Twitter. Facebook also allows users to post a wider range of media and to comment more broadly than Twitter does.”

“This is about monetizing kids and teens,” suggests James Steyer, founder and chief executive of privacy nonprofit Common Sense Media.

The move comes amid concern regarding online bullying and the safety of children. Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that requires Internet services to provide minors with options for deleting posts. The law is backed by Steyer.

“Last month, several groups asked the Federal Trade Commission to block an earlier Facebook policy that would allow wider marketing to teens,” notes WSJ. “The groups called that policy an ‘aggressive mix of data collection, profiling and tracking.'”

Facebook has defended the change, citing teenage users’ requests as one key factor. Teenagers have urged the company to allow public posts so they can use the social network for fundraisers, political advocacy, and promoting extracurricular activities such as sports, according to Facebook.

In a related story, Facebook is looking to find new ways to deliver lucrative ads without cluttering mobile screens. The company is expanding its Custom Audiences advertising service, enabling marketers to target users based on online activity outside the social network.

“The Custom Audiences tool will let companies gather information from visits to their websites and applications — and then use that data when marketing goods and services when potential customers visit Facebook, via mobile or desktop,” reports Bloomberg. “The service already helps marketers use data they have, such as e-mails or phone numbers, to send ads to consumers.”

“A bike retailer could reach people who started designing bikes on its website but didn’t make a purchase,” Facebook explained in a blog post. “Through Custom Audiences, the company can reach these people via desktop News Feed and encourage them to finish customizing online. Or, a mobile travel app can deliver ads to people who have downloaded their app but haven’t used it in a while and encourage them to book getaways within the app.”