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I'm working on a site with a forum, for which the current user base is fairly young. For the forum, where do I stand legally with children/teenagers signing up?

For example, I believe Facebook restricts membership to 13+. Should I have this restriction too? (We don't really have the means for any kind of age policing.) Are there any standard terms/conditions I can add to the site?

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Is it for children or teenagers? Because I can't imagine most teenagers wanting to be on the same online forum as 10- or 11-year-olds. Likewise, it's probably not a good idea to have kids under the age of 13 on an internet forum frequented by 16~17-year-olds.

I'm not sure if any specific terms/conditions need to be applied, but if you're creating a website that is going to be frequented by children (under 13), then you need to familiarize yourself with COPPA (summary), which dictates how U.S. sites need to write and display their privacy policy. COPPA also states that you're not allowed to unnecessarily require a child to submit personal info in order to participate in an online game/activity—so that's one condition you can't have.

Aside from that, if you're going to be targeting both children and teenagers, and there will be content possibly considered inappropriate for children, then you might want to take a look at FOSI's ICRA content ratings—though their site is pretty broken/useless now that they've discontinued and withdrawn support of ICRA and taken down the ICRA label generator. Despite the standard being abandoned by its creators, you can still implement it manually (through the W3C's POWDER specification) if you can find documentation on the labels/vocabulary elsewhere on the web.

What FOSI does have on its site that might be helpful are these studies:

These could help you define your TOS and implement ways to enforce them (e.g. a "flag this message" button like many sites have).

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I believe Facebook restricts membership to 13+. Should I have this restriction too?

Most likely, yes - particularly so if your target audience includes minors in the United States or Australia. (and, really, anything that 14 year olds like will probably be popular with some 13 year olds, too)

I'd highly recommend a review of COPPA.org and a cautionary note from the Wikipedia entry for COPPA:

This is an American law, however, the Federal Trade Commission has made it clear that the requirements of COPPA will apply to foreign-operated web sites if such sites "are directed to children in the U.S. or knowingly collect information from children in the U.S."

. . .

The website Xanga was fined USD $1 million for COPPA violations, for repeatedly allowing children under 13 to sign up for the service without getting their parent's consent. Similarly, UMG Recordings, Inc. was fined USD $400,000 for COPPA violations...

To avoid any potential liability, it would be best to talk with a lawyer if you plan to collect and store minors' personal information and particularly if you plan to market to minors.

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