Editor's Comment: Why Facebook must self-censor

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Noelle McElhatton
Noelle McElhatton

In his report 'Letting Children be Children,' Mothers' Union chief executive Reg Bailey said too many parents either encourage or turn a blind eye to children signing up to sites such as Facebook, watching adult films and so on.

Much of the report, commissioned by the government and published in June, is about common sense and consistency. Films and games are rated by the BBFC; why are music videos not rated?

Nanny state? Actually it's the 'Big Society' lot pushing a moral agenda that will affect brand-owners and the media. There is, however, an elephant in the room: Facebook.

Last year, regulator Ofcom published a report saying the age-restriction policies of Facebook and other social media sites are often ignored. As we know, children aspire to behave older. If you are 10 years old, Facebook has been in existence for almost your whole life. In the post-digital age, it may seem natural to pre-teens to be on 'FaceyB'.

Then what? Where is nanny?

The government cannot censor Facebook, so it is to the Advertising Association's credit that it has persuaded the site to join its industry 'children's panel', set up in response to the Bailey report, as we reveal in our cover story this issue.

As it gears up for flotation in 2012, Facebook badly needs this self-regulatory platform. Almost 1m UK under-12s are on the site, according to 2010 figures from the Advertising Association. Facebook continues to provide innovations for brand advertisers, but if its age demographic heads further south, those brands will have to be ever-more careful that adult content on the site is kept from pre-teens.

Facebook is right to take this step. The alternative would be, like News International before it, to have to face up to the wrath of Mumsnet and its powerful allies.

Noelle.McElhatton@haymarket.com

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