On Monday, Facebook launched a new feature called Youth Portal, which it describes as “a central place for teens.” In classic grownups-talking-to-the-youths fashion, it is replete with infantile animations, gratingly simplistic metaphors, and gentle rebukes about online behavior. And in classic Facebook fashion, it also includes several unsettling sections about data use.
As best we can tell, the Youth Portal is supposed to be an all-encompassing destination for young people on Facebook. It includes advertisements for various Facebook products; blog posts by Real Teens; basic security tips; and methods for limiting (but not eradicating) your Facebook use.
The portal lives in Facebook’s larger safety center, which suggests the company would like to appear as though it takes the safety of its youngest users seriously. To that end, the portal also includes some noteworthy information on data usage; namely, that Facebook doesn’t “sell your content or data. We never have, and we never will. You will still own your photos and videos.” While that may be technically true, it’s also disingenuous.
We may never know why, exactly, Facebook chose this week to launch its latest How Do You Do, Fellow Kids effort, but it seems primed to deflect criticism that it’s not a very good place for young people. Its Messenger Kids app has invited warnings from child-health advocates, as well as congressional concerns over data privacy. (Not to mention that the Cambridge Analytica scandal put Facebook’s general privacy practices front and center.) We’d do well to remember, too, that the company allegedly told advertisers it knew when teens were feeling “insecure” and “worthless.”
Of course, all of this assumes that lots of young people are using Facebook to begin with, but there’s been plenty of reportage over the years that suggests this increasingly isn’t the case. Then again, given that Facebook’s user base now allegedly sits at more than two billion, the teens may not be as important as they used to be.