This week, Facebook debuted its Youth Portal, a subsite featuring dozens of quick explainers on its privacy and data collection policies, as well as general tips for using social media. It's actually a great resource for adults. The sections are concisely written, with cute emoji that sort of look like updated versions of Clippy - a reference surely none of the Youth will get.
Removing the legalese is the best way to help people understand the fundamentals invisibly governing their online life, but Facebook, as ever, can't be trusted to fully inform people of the extent to which it collects and manipulates user data.
"Guiding Principles," for instance, is a Youth Portal blog post providing safety tips for young users, but many adults could honestly use this solid refresher on online hygiene and how to avoiding oversharing. "Change your locks," one section reads, a reminder to revisit privacy settings often. "Don't let strangers hang out in your room," is also an excellent pointer, reminding users to check their friends lists occasionally and be mindful of who still has access to their posts. And "Think before you speak" is frankly the "save the rainforests" of online advice: we all recognise its value, but rarely do anything about. Still good true, though.
The best example of the strengths and weaknesses of the new portal is its "Privacy" section. Consider this section on "how ads work."
The language is easier to understand than Facebook's adult-oriented explainers, but saying ads are based on "actions you took on Facebook" reveals nothing about the way behavioural tracking actually works. It tells users they can opt out of the interest-based ads dynamic, but never explicitly tells users they can't escape from behavioural tracking wholesale. Even if you opt out of ad preferences, Facebook doesn't completely stop tracking your behaviour.
Let's call that one a "soft" contradiction. Here's a "hard" one: One of the tips from "Guiding Principles" states, plain as day, "don't share your exact location." Hilariously, tabbing over to the Youth Portal's "Security" section tells young readers, step-by-step, how to share their live location with friends.
In the Youth Portal, you see Facebook toeing the same line it has while weathering its various data scandals. It wants users to share their personal details, while simultaneously teaching people to be cautious about what they share online. Ultimately, the Youth Portal may impart an important lesson to both kids and adults: Don't trust Facebook to tell you everything you need to know about the downsides of using Facebook.