It seems like the social media world is asking this question a lot of late. For different reasons, this demographic information is becoming pivotal for the marketing and the content on our hottest social media services.
Twitter is testing out an age-screening tool to separate young from old. It wants to be able to attract big-budget alcohol advertisers and the like. But beer companies and others have been avoiding Twitter because the it’s just so darn easy to lie about your age when you register.
Meanwhile, Facebook is going the other way and wants to welcome the younger set more formally. It already has as many as 7.5 million users under age 13 who have lied to get on, according to a survey conducted by Consumer Reports last year.
The company has a policy, in accordance with U.S. regulations, to keep kids off. Now, it’s trying to find a way to get kids on Facebook, probably by linking them through their parents’ home pages, to keep on the good side of the rules.
The reason for this is Facebook’s troubles in the mobile market. Smartphone-friendly kids discovering the site anew could well boost that segment. As well, some experts think the plan could help Facebook preserve the integrity of its data collection, which gets skewed when people lie about their ages.
But once you dip you toe into the world of kids and online media, things get messy, fast. The privacy concerns are through the roof for this demographic, and cyberbullying is massive.
And despite the vast numbers of social media outlets that cater directly to kids, none has been able to break through and become a leader like some of the sites for adults.
The top ones seem to keep shutting down (Togetherville, Kidswirl) and even the mammoth sites like Club Penguin don’t seem to get support as the years pass (FYI it shut down briefly last year when Disney neglected to renew the domain name).
It’d be trite of me to say this should all work itself out in short order. The truth is, the issue of kids online and how to serve them safely and well is one we’ve been grappling with since the invention of the Web, and I suspect its resolution for social media channels is quite far away.
Twitter may be the smartest of the lot — seek out the kids, keep them off, and let the rest of the world continue this endlessly hot debate.