Up to 3.6m Facebook users may be underage

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) federal regulation states that a person must be aged 13 or older in order to use websites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, however there are fears that millions of users are below this legal age with, technology firm, ComScore estimating that up to 3.6m Facebook users are under the age of 12. "Not only are kids lying about their age, but more often than not, parents teach them to lie about their age," said Microsoft researcher, Danah Boyd.

While lying about age is nothing new, the current concerns are that children are signing up to these sites, mostly to copy their peers and family. It is claimed that parents are even helping their children, while considering the law an obstacle which blocks their children from socialising and participating in social media. Media websites find it hard to verify a person age while keeping their sites active. "We are not burying our head in the sand," said the chief security officer at Facebook.

One such example is that of 44 year old Cristina Flores, she allowed her 11 year old son to sign up on Facebook without realising that age restrictions existed. "It’s not like there’s a legal age limit for being on the Internet," she said. Jake, her son, told the site he was 15 years old. It appears this is not uncommon with half of his class doing the same thing.

The former chief of security at MySpace, Hemanshu Nigam, told the NY Times the story of an 11 year old boy who accepted a friend request from a girl in his class, the only issue was that 'her' profile was fake. The boys pictures ended up on a sex themed website with some very distasteful comments. "It can be a living nightmare for an 11-year-old who just wanted to hang out with his friends" he said.

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