All Facebook and Instagram users are supposed to be at least 13 years old, but there is no verification process to sign up. Over the years, kids have lied (and many parents have lied for their kids) to get around the age requirement and create accounts anyway.
The two social networks will now take a more proactive approach to locking these accounts. Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that an “operational” change will shift how moderators investigate accounts. Previously, the companies would only investigate if someone reported it specifically. Reviewers will now lock the accounts of those suspected of being under 13, no matter the reason the account came under scrutiny. TechCrunch reports those account holders must provide proof of age to get their accounts unlocked.
Age 13 is the cutoff because of the Child Online Privacy Protection Act. This regulation aims to give parents control over information collected about their young kids online. Any website or app that gains information from kids under age 13 must comply with many rules, including receiving parental consent and maintaining confidentiality of the information collected.
Rather than facing so many additional regulations, many websites and apps decide to limit access to those 13 and older. But without age verification, not much stands in the way of young children signing up anyway.
Facebook isn’t the only website guilty of lax age standards. A 2017 study from OfCom found that 74 percent of adolescents ages 12-15 and 23 percent of children ages 8-11 have a social media profile.
Another recent study found more than half of Android apps aimed at kids younger than 13 potentially violate COPPA. The research out of the University of California, Berkeley showed the apps were improperly collecting and sharing data, disregarding “contractual obligations aimed at protecting children’s privacy.”
While some parents ignore these age requirements, it can cause problems down the road. A Facebook source told TechCrunch that as those kids who lied about their age got older, Facebook would always believe the user was older than they truly were. Facebook may think a user is 21 several years before it is actually true, meaning that user could see ads for alcohol, gambling or graphic violence meant only for adult users.
Both Facebook and Instagram offer guidelines on reporting underage accounts. If a user created an account before they were 13 and now wants to come clean, they can request a birthday change, but the account may be suspended while the social network investigates.