Reason for Facebook's Age Limit

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg speaking with a microphone

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Have you ever tried to create a Facebook account and gotten this error message:

"You are ineligible to sign up for Facebook."

If so, it's very likely you don't meet Facebook's age limit. Facebook and other online social media sites and email services are prohibited by federal law from allowing children under 13 to create accounts without the consent of their parents or legal guardians.

If you were baffled after being turned away by Facebook's age limit, there's a clause right there in the "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" that you must accept when you create a Facebook account: "You will not use Facebook if you are under 13."

Age Limit for Gmail and Yahoo!

Yahoo! Logo

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The same goes for web-based email services including Google's Gmail and Yahoo! Mail.​ If you're not 13 years old, you'll get this message when trying to sign up for a Gmail account:

"Google could not create your account. In order to have a Google Account, you must meet certain age requirements."

If you're under the age of 13 and try to sign up for a Yahoo! Mail account, you'll also be turned away with this message:

"Yahoo! is concerned about the safety and privacy of all its users, particularly children. For this reason, parents of children under the age of 13 who wish to allow their children access to the Yahoo! Services must create a Yahoo! Family Account."

Federal Law Sets Age Limit

The new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro on display during launch day on October 23, 2020 in London, England.

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So why do Facebook, Gmail, and Yahoo! ban users under 13 without parental consent? They're required to under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law passed in 1998.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act has been updated since it was signed into law, including revisions that attempt to address the increased use of mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads and social networking services including Facebook and Google+.

Among the updates was a requirement that website and social media services cannot collect geolocation information, photographs, or videos from users under the age of 13 without notifying and receiving consent from parents or guardians.

How Some Youths Get Around the Age Limit

Facebook
Facebook. Facebook

Despite Facebook's age requirement and federal law, millions of underage users are known to have created accounts and maintain Facebook profiles. They do so by lying about their age, often with full knowledge of their parents.

An estimated 7.5 million children—those under 13 years of age—have Facebook accounts out of the estimated 2.45 billion people who use the social network. Facebook said the number of underage users highlighted "just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services."

Facebook allows users to report children under the age of 13. "Note that we'll promptly delete the account of any child under the age of 13 that's reported to us through this form," the company states.

Is the Act Effective?

Photo illustration of the TikTok logo is displayed on the screen of a smartphone

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Congress intended the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act to protect youths from predatory marketing as well as stalking and kidnapping, both of which became more prevalent as access to the internet and personal computers grew, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the law.

But many companies have merely limited their marketing efforts toward users age 13 and older, meaning that children who lie about their age are likely to be subjected to such campaigns and the use of their personal information.

In 2018, a Pew Research Center survey found that:

"Fully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online 'almost constantly.'"

However, the study also noted:

"Roughly half (51%) of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 say they use Facebook, notably lower than the shares who use YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat."

Of note, other, newer social media platforms have grabbed a large chunk of the young audience. For example, more than a third of the 49 million users of Tik Tok, a video-sharing social networking service, are 14 or younger, according to The New York Times. Like Facebook, the minimum age for using Tik Tok is 13 but many users may be younger, as the Times noted:

"While some of those (young Tik Tok) users are likely to be 13 or 14, one former employee said TikTok workers had previously pointed out videos from children who appeared to be even younger that were allowed to remain online for weeks."

Facebook Messenger Kids

Icons for Messenger Kids and Messenger
Facebook Messenger Kids works alongside Messenger (for grownups).

Facebook

In 2017, Facebook launched Facebook Messenger Kids, a new app that allows children ages 6 to 12 to send messages through its platform. According to the website Learning English:

"The free service, called Messenger Kids, must be activated by the child’s parents. Parents can then create a profile for the child as an extension of their own Facebook account. Parents must approve all requests before people can connect with the child."

Nearly 3 million users downloaded the app in April 2020, compared with 1.9 the previous month. In April 2020, Facebook relaunched the app in 70 additional countries and with new features to draw in youngsters. But experts are mixed about the appropriateness of the app for the younger set. Christine Elgersma, senior editor of social media and learning resources at Common Sense Media, told The Wall Street Journal:

“You’re indoctrinating them into the world of social media. I think there’s a risk of children feeling the pressure to always be on."

Sources

View Article Sources
  1. Aiken, Mary. “The Kids Who Lie About Their Age to Join Facebook.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Aug. 2016.

  2. Facebook. Facebook Q3 2019 results. investor.fb.com.

  3. Anderson, Monica, and Jingjing Jiang. “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 31 May 2018.

  4. Zhong, Raymond, and Sheera Frenkel. “A Third of TikTok's U.S. Users May Be 14 or Under, Raising Safety Questions.” The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2020.

  5. Jargon, Julie. “Facebook Messenger Kids: How Young Is Too Young for a Chat App?” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 12 May 2020.

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Murse, Tom. "Reason for Facebook's Age Limit." ThoughtCo, Feb. 26, 2021, thoughtco.com/does-facebook-have-age-restrictions-3367671. Murse, Tom. (2021, February 26). Reason for Facebook's Age Limit. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/does-facebook-have-age-restrictions-3367671 Murse, Tom. "Reason for Facebook's Age Limit." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/does-facebook-have-age-restrictions-3367671 (accessed May 17, 2021).