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Facebook for Preteens? Not a Good Idea, Police Officer Says

After participating in Internet predator stings, a Loganville police officer has concerns for the safety of younger children if Facebook goes through with proposal to open the social media site to preteens.

At the moment, children under 13 are not officially allowed to participate on Facebook, but that could soon change. According to CNET.com, Facebook is close to allowing children under 13 to sign up for the world’s largest social network. There are, however, plans in place to put limits on what the younger users would be able to do. But some people still say 13 is young enough.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea – it just opens up more avenues for predators to access,” said Detective Lt. Mike Westbrooks – and he would know. After spending hours in Internet chat rooms pretending to be a minor, Westbrooks is well aware of how pedophiles have learned to use the Internet to troll for victims. “Like with MySpace and Yahoo, these sites just give them more opportunities.”

The LPD Internet Predator Unit was very successful when it first began operations in 2005, locking up predators, many of whom travelled to the local area expecting to have sex with an underage girl. There were even a couple of youth pastors and little league coaches netted in the LPD stings. But of late Westbrooks said the predators seem more wary of the stings and many now stay out of the chatrooms. He is concerned that opening up Facebook to younger children would result in a resurgence of the behavior.

“It also opens up opportunities for some of the bullying that goes on over the Internet,” Westbrooks said. “We have a case just recently with a boy being attacked by a mom who was so upset about what he said on Facebook about her daughter. We would just have this going on at an even younger age. Sometimes kids just need to be allowed to be kids for as long as we can keep them that way.”

According to the story on CNET, Facebook is attempting to ward off opposition such as this by trying out ways to have parents decide with whom children under 13 can be friends. It also reports that as it is, about 38 percent of children already on Facebook are 12 years or younger, with about 4 percent even 6 or younger. It is reported that if Facebook does go through with this proposal, parents also would have the say in what Facebook games or applications their children have access to.

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