I am often asked to speak to parent groups about the social media landscape and our children. Recently, Sarita Yardi, PhD candidate in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, and I spent an hour with about 50 8th grade parents looking at what kids are doing online, talking about that morning's hot-off-the-press Kaiser report, and asking them how much they knew about Facebook's new privacy settings. (Many did not know the settings had changed.) Upon leaving we had a lot of parents promising to set up their own Facebook accounts so they could learn more about this world their children lived in; but moreso, nearly every parent there wanted some guidance on the new privacy settings. "What SHOULD those settings be?" they inquired.
And so, here it is. The following recommendations are my suggestions for an average child in a home of typical online supervision. This means the child is emotionally stable; is well-adjusted in school or other face to face environments with his or her peers; and, the parents are not experts but they are willing to be involved in their child's learning to "live online." I would love to have the network's response to these recommendations, so please chime in as an educator, researcher, counselor, doctor, parent...or friend. I am hoping we can get the best recommendation out there for our young teens...and their parents.Recommended Facebook Privacy Settings
1. Where do I find the settings?
You will notice the screen above doesn't look like the current log in corner of FB. If you remember nothing else from what I share below, I hope you will remember this: things change, and simply plugging in my recommendations does not help you help your child develop the skills to navigate this constantly changing paradigm of information abundance, connectivity, and instant access. The image above is from the site as it looked just last week. When you log in to Facebook today, you will find the privacy settings have moved. They are now accessed via the drop down menu under the word "Account." (Settings no longer exists in the navigation bar.) So, go to that drop down menu, and click on Privacy Settings. The following menu will appear (this did stay the same):
1 . Profile Information
Certain information in all Facebook accounts (name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, Friends List*, and all the "pages" subscribed to) is now public information. However, you can control what additional information is available to Everyone vs. Friends of Friends vs. Only Friends. You will note my profile information and settings below. As someone who uses Facebook for social and business reasons, I am comfortable with having Everyone see my Family and Relationships as well as Education and Workplace. I would recommend that our young teens start out with sharing the additional information with Only Friends. This means that any photos or videos posted online are only viewable by friends (this includes photos and videos uploaded and tagged as your child--the tag would only show to their friends). You can also restrict posting on their wall to only friends which, assuming the choice of friends is a good one implies there will not be inappropriate posts.
*Note: It is possible to remove Friends List from a public profile. However, Facebook does not make this easy. To remove a Friends list from public viewing, go to the Friends list as shown on your home page (under the picture) and click on the Edit button (pencil icon). You can select to remove the Friends list from your public profile here.
2. Contact Information
Contact Information includes everything from address, phone number, email, and IM handle to Facebook inbox/message control. Each item has its own drop down menu just as Profile Information does where you can decide who can see that information: Only Friends, Friends of Friends, Everyone (in the World). I don't see any reason why a 13 year old should have a setting for each of these other than Only Friends. Your child might initially argue that they want people to be able to Add Me as a Friend and Send Me a Message. My thinking is that you can "grow" the more public nature of child's information as he/she demonstrates maturity and network literacy skills with the group of his/her friends.
This opens the door to speak for a moment to this thing called "Friends." Friends, and the number of friends one has, are the gold standard by which many a young adult judges his/her worth--online just as it is offline. If you child is not searchable on Facebook (see below), then the chance of them becoming friends a) with someone they do not know or b) without them seeking out the friendship first is not likely. I hope, however, that parents will spend time helping their child consider who they should friend online. My rule of thumb with my kids was they were not to friend someone they did not know, or who they did not know was a good friend of one of their good friends. And, if ever there was anything inappropriate, then they should not be the least bit concerned about "unfriending" that person and telling me.
None of this is meant to get in the way of our children forging friendships beyond those people they know face to face or know well. I think those relationships will come, in different contexts (possibly and hopefully school), as parent and child learn how Facebook and other learning networks work, and as the child demonstrates (again) their learning and mature handling of these connections.
3. Search: Who Can Find Your Child on Facebook AND Google
A. Facebook Search Results
Do you want those who are not currently Friends with your child on Facebook to be able to search the Facebook platform and find them? There are once again three choices here: Only Friends, Friends of Friends, and Everyone. You'll notice that I have the Everyone setting. As an adult who uses Facebook for some social and some business use, I am fine with being searchable. However, I think that being searchable as a 13 year old should be limited to Only Friends or Friends of Friends. I am pretty comfortable with Friends of Friends in this category for this reason only: If you have selected Only Friends under all the Contact section items, then your child cannot be sent a message or a request to "add a friend" from someone other than their friends. Friends of friends can see their profile in the search results, but they would not have contact information. The most conservative stance here would be Only Friends. If you're going to spend time learning Facebook and observing your child's development online, then this limited searchability seems to be a good opportunity for learning together.
B. Google Search Results
As you can see, I checked "Allow" in my Public Search Results setting. This means that if you Google me, you'll see that I have a Facebook account, and you will be able to see the limited profile I've shared to Everyone. Given my work and maturity, I am fine with being searchable. In fact, this "clickability" is important to me. Your child at age 13 is another matter. I would suggest you uncheck the box "Allow" making your child's public profile on Facebook unsearchable on Google.
4. Applications and Websites
This area can get complicated. Why? Kids use these applications all the time, and they love things like birthday cards which require certain shared information. Applications and websites that are used in Facebook can freely access any of the public information or that which is shared with everyone. However, in this area you can choose what information Facebook can share with applications used by your child's friends AND you can block certain applications you don't feel comfortable with. Just edit the settings at What Friends Can Share About You and Blocked Applications.
5. Block List
Last but not least is the Block List. If there are certain individuals on Facebook that you do not want interacting with your teen, or who they don't want to have contact with, then add them to the Block List. If you have followed the instructions above and do not have a public profile, and you have limited contact to only friends, then you should not have an issue with contact from outside the preselected network you and your teen have set up together.
There are many "ins and outs" of Facebook (and other online networks) and these settings do not in any way cover every eventuality or situation. So, what do you do? Learn by doing. Get online yourself, and let your child/now teen show you what they do online. Develop a relationship that includes inquiry--asking questions, looking for answers together--and begin building an open dialogue and trust in this new space together. Then let it grow naturally from there.
When I asked my 8th grade nephew the other day his recommendation to kids his age online he wrote, "follow your own values/morals and be smart." I thought this was pretty good advice-for both the teens and the parents.