As the Head of ICT and a Year 8 tutor (12-13 yr olds), I regularly get called upon to investigate inappropriate Facebook activity by pupils who are not legally allowed to have a Facebook account because they are underage.
Listening to Luke DeLaney at Learning Without Frontiers in January 2011 (pictured here), he was quite clear that his organisation want to know about underage use of their social networking platform. Once they identify an underage user they have software that trawls that persons account and identifies other potentially underage users. They will delete the accounts, parental permission or not. I have no evidence this works as he claimed.
So, I am aware that many young people (under 13 years old) have accounts. Should we as a school report them? Yes, of course, and, we do. It is not our choice. However, there is a wider issue at play here. As we become aware of, and if we report and successfully get these accounts deleted, the users will probably make another account and we will effectively be driving their social networking underground. This is not a good thing. How can we guide and nurture our youngsters in the perils of social networking if they are doing it behind closed doors? It is surely best to talk about the elephant in the room.
On the other hand, if we start to delete (not deactivate) accounts as they are brought to our attention, surely we are serving the individuals concerned in the long run? If inappropriate behaviour (usually name-calling or bullying of some sort) is dealt with strictly then we will set a precedent. Pupils will become more cautious about their postings online because, should somebody else secretly divulge the content to a teacher, they will have their account deleted without being told about it. I imagine, over time, this would manifest into a more appropriate use of the sites even for those underage users. Another big reason to hold a firm line on this is because Facebook has two levels of age-appropriate accounts. Under-eighteens have a different account to adults. When lying about their age, pupils will often make themselves several years older than they are which puts them into the adult account long before they are eighteen.
Surely, as teachers, it is our responsibility to do this by the book? What do you do?