Facebook is now allowing teenagers to share their posts on the social network with anyone on the internet, raising the risks of minors leaving a digital trail that could lead to trouble.
The change affects Facebook users who list their ages as 13 to 17.
Until now, Facebook users falling within that age group had been limited to sharing information and photos only with their own friends or friends of those friends.
The new policy will give teens the choice of switching their settings so their posts can be accessible to the general public. That option already has been available to anyone 18 and older.
As a protective measure, Facebook will warn minors opting to be more open that they are exposing themselves to a broader audience. The caution will repeat before every post, as long as the settings remain on “public”.
The initial privacy settings of teens under 18 will automatically be set so posts are seen only by friends. That is more restrictive than the previous default setting that allowed teens to distribute their posts to friends of their friends in the network.
In a blog post, Facebook said it decided to revise its privacy rules to make its service more enjoyable for teens and to provide them with a more powerful megaphone when they believed they had an important point to make or a cause to support.
The question remains whether teens understand how sharing their thoughts or pictures of their activities can come back to haunt them, says Kathryn Montgomery, an American University professor of communications who has written a book about how the internet affects children.
“On the one hand, you want to encourage kids to participate in the digital world, but they are not always very wise about how they do it,” she said.
“Teens tend to take more risks and don’t always understand the consequences of their behaviour.”
Giving people more reasons to habitually visit its social network is important to Facebook because a larger audience helps sell more of the ads that generate most of the company’s revenue.