- Until now 13 to 17-year olds barred from making posts visible to all users
- But Facebook removed that protection and images can be shared publicly
- Move condemned as a ‘disaster’ by campaigners
Paedophiles could find it easier to prey on teenagers online after Facebook changed its rules to allow under-18s to share pictures with anyone on the internet.
Until now, all Facebook users aged between 13 and 17 have been barred from making their posts visible to all users.
They have been restricted to those they had already decided to link with on the social networking site and were allowed to share posts only with ‘friends of friends’.
But, following what it claims are demands from teenagers themselves, that protection has been removed and Facebook will allow children to share their images and videos with the entire public.
The move has been condemned as a ‘disaster’ by campaigners, who warn that explicit self-portraits taken by youngsters could fall into the wrong hands.
The change brings Facebook in line with other social networks such as Twitter, which allows all users to post publicly.
Another change means teenage users will be given a default setting of ‘friends only’ – meaning that to post publicly they will have to change the setting themselves.
Technically, Facebook is open only to those aged 13 and above, but in fact thousands of children younger than that have become members of the site by lying about their age.
Facebook does not carry out an age verification check. It means that thousands of children under 13 could also be at risk of seeing their photos fall into the hands of paedophiles.
Helen Goodman, Labour’s media spokesman, said Facebook’s change of policy would be a ‘disaster’ for teenagers. ‘This is a very foolish development,’ she said. ‘Many young people do not understand that photographs which can be put into the public domain can be taken and used by paedophiles.
‘And we know from experience that young people are groomed and bullied on social media, sometimes with tragic consequences. I’m just appalled about this and I really do urge Facebook to think again before we have any more tragic episodes.’
Claire Lilley, of the NSPCC, said the charity was pleased that Facebook has made ‘friends only’ the default setting for 13- to 17-year-olds, but she attacked the decision to allow them to share posts publicly.
‘It’s simply not acceptable for Facebook to expect children to take 100 per cent responsibility for managing not just their settings but their levels of risk too; teenagers aren’t always going to be careful about what they post,’ she said.
Earlier this week, the Mail revealed that tens of thousands of explicit pictures shared by teenagers are stolen and end up on websites viewed by paedophiles.
A search of only 40 hours by analysts at the Internet Watch Foundation, which takes down child abuse images, found more than 12,200 self-generated pictures and videos of teens on paedophile websites.
A survey by the charity ChildLine has found that more than half of teens have been pressurised into sharing intimate photos, either via their mobiles or on sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.
Simon Milner, director of policy for Facebook in the UK, said: ‘One of the requests we hear direct from teenagers most often is the ability to share things in a public way, just as they can on other services.
‘Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and they want to be heard.’
He said the changes were designed to ‘improve the experience’ for teenagers. ‘They’re expert at controlling who can see what they say and do on Facebook,’ he said.
As a protective measure, Facebook will warn minors opting to be more open that they are exposing themselves to a wider audience. This will repeat before every post, while the settings remain on ‘public’.
Kathryn Montgomery, professor of communications at the American University in Washington, criticised what she described as a money-making move by Facebook.
She said that allowing teenagers to share more about themselves will enable advertisers to collect more personal data about them.
Facebook denied the move would enable it to make more money.