Don’t court trouble, says child rights activist over Facebook Dating

Malaysia is one of the 19 countries with access to Facebook Dating. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: A child rights activist has urged parents and authorities to keep an eye on children surfing the Internet after Facebook’s newly launched dating service arrived on Malaysian shores.

“Facebook Dating claims to be safe and secure but the reality is nothing online is 100% safe or secure,” Sharmila Sekaran said.

Facebook now lets users create a dating account where they are matched with others based on their interests, “likes”, Facebook Groups and events, among others.

Matches will be shown the other person’s first name, age, current city and photo.

Users will also have the option of sharing their work, education and other biographical information.

Malaysia is one of 14 countries that had the Facebook Dating feature expanded to their networks this month.

It is said to be a service only for Facebook users above 18 years old.

Sharmila Sekaran.

Sharmila pointed out that while Facebook has a minimum age requirement to start an account, children as young as eight already have Facebook profiles and know how to navigate the platform.

“Dating apps are usually for adults but Facebook is used by children as young as 12 or 13 or even younger,” she told FMT, adding that not many are aware of the dangers of online dating and its repercussions.

“The government needs to hold Facebook accountable,” she said.

Sharmila, who runs the Voices of the Children group, said children and teenagers are not mature enough to differentiate between genuine potential suitors and those who “just want a fling”.

“They are also at risk of being cyberbullied, which has resulted in a spike of self-harm and suicide cases.

“Not only that, they risk being approached and contacted by sexual predators,” she said.

Sharmila said children need to learn, through real-life experiences, what genuine relationships are like.

The key, she said, is to know what constitutes love and lust.

“While it is common for teenagers to get into relationships today, is this how we want them to spend their time and their thoughts?

“Don’t we want to encourage more meaningful activities?

“They have a whole life ahead to find love and build relationships.”

Facebook Dating has been active for over a year in Colombia, Thailand, Canada, Argentina and Mexico.

The latest update announced this month sees the dating service revamped with a “Secret Crush” extension, which helps one find “potential romantic relationships within their own extended circle of friends”.

Users can select up to nine Facebook friends to express interest in.

If a friend selects a user, then both will get to see that they have a match, similar to how dating apps like Tinder works.

Chances for sham accounts and “catfishes” – where people hide their identities behind pictures of others – are high as creating Facebook accounts is easy. One need not even use a profile picture or fill in basic details.

There is also no proper age verification for Facebook users, Sharmila said.