FYI: Age Verification & Parental Approvals for kid Social Networking Sites

The North Carolina Senate has passed a new law designed to protect minors from the “perils” of social networking sites like MySpace. Concern about sexual predators on such sites has been mounting, with much of the pressure coming from state Attorneys General, including North Carolina’s Roy Cooper. Now, state legislatures are starting to take action to “protect the children.”North Carolina’s proposed law stands out because it at least recognizes the difficulties with requiring social networking sites to do age verification. While age verification works pretty well for adults, it is much harder to do with children. The North Carolina legislation takes this lesson to heart by requiring that parents or guardians first sign up and verify their ages; only then can their children register for accounts.

Braden Cox recently testified about the legislation before the North Carolina legislature on behalf of the Netchoice Coalition and said that “there is no way to make sure that someone a user designates as their parent is in fact their parent.” He argued that the best way to prevent problems is through education, not regulation—an approach that naturally appeals to the corporate backers of Netchoice.

Bills like this could be a sign of things to come. Congress has already considered legislation which would have made social networking sites off-limits at schools and libraries, and state Attorneys General have threatened and other sites with lawsuits if they do not implement stronger age verification systems.

Social networking sites have clearly gotten the memo about parental worries, and most are moving proactively to head off criticism and safeguard their users.
MySpace, for instance, has announced a program called “Zephyr” that will allow parents to access their children’s accounts and keep an
eye on their electronic doings. Critics have already dismissed the move as not being good enough.

Legislation like that being considered by North Carolina is often dismissed as merely pandering to the “Think of the children!” demographic, but protecting children is part of the government’s public safety obligation. Few of the proposals we’ve seen so far seem like good ways to do this, but North Carolina’s approach at least has the virtue of novelty—unlike most video game legislation, which relies on similar rhetoric but has been almost universally struck down by the courts, sometimes at great cost to the states.

MySpace age verification… for parents?

There have been SO MANY different articles like this in the news for about 4 months now. How is the government going to make up for lacking parents? First of all– it’s making sure that parents ARE indeed parents.

We have a really great advisory board filled with kids– but if you want to participate, a parent needs to approve. It seems easy enough. Wrong.

1. Kids lie. They want to be a part of something and don’t want the time barrier it will take for a parent to approve (or the chance that they may not approve at all). So they send approvals that look more like Junior High art projects than a parent approval letter, and I won’t even go into the spelling (like I should talk) or the “slips” (as in– “I, Mr. Anthony ***, aprve my 9 year old sun, Marc, he relly likes your site a lot and wants to play there every day cos he thinks ur the bestest. Tnx, Marc” OOPS! LOL).

2. Parents are typing/sounding younger (or some would say “cooler”) all the time. I’ve double checked a mountain of parent approvals– simply because I thought they were kids trying to scam me. Parents with Hello Kitty backdrops, L33T spelling, smiley icons, and wretched grammer. Sometimes I have NO IDEA if it’s a parent or a 15 year old. I’ve never been one for “sounding/acting your age”– but MAN, it would be an easier world if people would act like respectable parents when called to do so.

3. Lazy parents. Parents don’t always read the emails coming to them regarding their children. They see paragraph jargon and think it’s just a “heads up”– some respond with empty messages, or they’re put something vague like “Yah, my kid can play on your site.” Play on our site? Clearly someone didn’t even read the first sentence.

Every 1/10 approvals I get from parents is appropriate and consise. My favorite are the parents who actually ASK QUESTIONS about their child’s involvement & safety. Sure some of the questions can be legal and difficult– but at least they ask! Taking an interest– who knew it would be so rare?

Regardless… age verification seems like it will remain an enigma for the masses for some time. That’s why I’m glad we use human intellegence to verify & clarify. There is still room for error, but at least we can investigate a little further (also helps to be a contained, smaller community- ha!).

I have to say– working on a smaller, contained community has been an AMAZING education– you get hands on in the nitty gritty of + and – of ev-er-y-thing. You get to see the world from the top & bottom & middle. Where the future will go, where the past has been, and how the present is both good & bad.

  1. Joi
    May 30, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Great post, Izzy! I don’t think people think about points 2 and 3 too much.

  2. May 31, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Excellent post, Izzy. I agree with Joi, #2 & 3 are off the radar and I’m sure you’ve noticed even in the BlogSafety forum, some of the folks that are ‘parents’ using fast chat seem like tweens judging by the (lack of) sophistication of queries & typos.

    That said, I just got an SOS from a parent who has an underage boy frequenting violent sites (not sure about chat) and she’s ballistic ‘wanting to know what to do’..sigh. It turns out he’s all of 9 years old. (Yeah. A single digit ‘tater tot’…clearly adept at your “#1″…;-)

  1. July 6, 2007 at 6:18 pm

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