Friended by Mom and Dad on Facebook

Students worry about 'friend requests' from their parents.

ByABC News
December 31, 2008, 11:58 AM

Jan. 3, 2009 -- The Facebook group entitled "For the love of god -- don't let parents join Facebook" has 5,819 high school and college-aged members who want to stop the growing number of parents who are joining Facebook, the massively popular social networking site, from "spying" on them.

Many Facebook users already know that employers, teachers and admissions officers at universities use Facebook to check up on potential employees or students, but the recent dramatic increase in the number of parents using Facebook seems to disturb many younger users more than the presence of any other demographic.

"It's really weird that nonstudents and parents use Facebook," said Emma Gaines, a Tufts University sophomore. "It makes me feel really uncomfortable that my older aunt has Facebook, because she says that she likes to check up on her teenage nieces and nephews and takes our pictures for her own use. That's creepy."

Facebook was previously available only to college students -- users were required to provide a college e-mail address in order to sign up -- but in September 2007, it opened its doors to all, though it recommends users be at least 13 years old.

This change sparked a nationwide increase in the number of Facebook users above student age -- in the year from May 2006 to May 2007, for example, the marketing research company Comscore reported that the number of users over the age of 25 increased 279 percent.

While Comscore also reported a 149 percent increase in that same time frame for ages 12-17, the increase for the 25-plus group is particularly pertinent because this group is composed mainly of nonstudents, while the 12-17 group is composed of middle and high school students.

Additionally, the 279 percent increase is certainly not restricted to parents -- many corporations and activist groups also form Facebook groups to advertise or to generate publicity. However, the increase in these groups has bolstered the increase in parents on the site, which is exactly the problem for the apprehensive students who don't think parents should be allowed on the site.

With the change to general admission for anyone who wants to use Facebook, parents can "friend" their children on the site, which allows them to view their personal information, photos and "wall" interactions with friends. For many students, this newfound ability is viewed as an invasion of privacy.

Before anyone with a valid e-mail address was permitted to use Facebook, various student groups on the site created "petitions," which they sent to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, detailing their profound wish to prevent nonstudents from being able to join the site.

For instance, the creator of the Facebook group "Don't Let My Parents onto Facebook!!" sent an e-mail to Zuckerberg before the change to general admission, detailing the reasons why parents shouldn't be allowed on the site.

The description for the group says, "Facebook is planning to announce that it will soon make the site open to ANYONE with a valid e-mail address. This means that your mom and dad, grandmas, almost everyone could possibly see your profiles. Now I am sure the privacy settings will go through the roof when this happens, but that is not the point. Facebook is a site where high school and college kids can be on their own and not worry about their parents or anyone else judging them. Let's keep it that way."

Luckily for the children of Facebook users, however, their parents can look at their photos and private information only if they are "friends" on Facebook. Parents may request online friendship with their children, but those who receive these requests don't necessarily have to accept them.

"My mom tried to 'friend' me but I denied her request," said Russell Taylor, a William and Mary sophomore. "I don't want my mom commenting on my pictures. That would be weird."

This requirement that users "friend" each other in order to view each other's information addresses safety issues that have plagued other sites, because users must confirm that the connection with anyone who requests their "Facebook friendship."