I was recently having a discussion with someone about online safety and children. As any reader of this blog will know, it’s one of my favourite subjects. As we were chatting, I was asked if I felt social media platforms have a “moral duty” to stop youngsters accessing their services.
I blurted out that age verification checks for many social media platforms are “appalling.” That’s possibly a bit harsh, but as my kids get older I find increasing numbers of their tweenager friends have access to social media platforms designed for people who are several years older.
Most of the big social media platforms recommend the user is at least 12 or 13 years of age. Added to this, most social media platforms, very sensibly I should add, recommend that teenage users have private accounts so only friends and family can see what they are posting.
When you sign up for an account, however, it all seems to fall apart. Generally speaking, most platforms rely on the user being honest about their date of birth. Exaggerate about your age and very often you can download the app. The only thing standing in your way is having a valid email address, but as that comes as standard with most devices it’s not a big hurdle to jump.
There’s rarely, if ever, any need to prove your age or seek parental approval. It’s remarkably easy.
This is an issue that worries me greatly. Some parents happily let their kids use social media platforms under the age of 13.
I often talk to parents about online safety and digital resilience. While some know their kids shouldn’t be using these platforms, others are completely oblivious as to what their kids are up to online. I think it’s very easy to underestimate the risks of having such a laissez faire approach.
I’m talking about kids who are still at primary school. These children don’t understand what they’re doing and they easily get hooked on the idea that social media is all about likes and follower numbers. I am aware of children who have anxiety issues and a lot of it seems to come down to pressure they are putting themselves under to be popular on social media.
Unfortunately, some parents are oblivious to this. While it is easy to label the minority who are irresponsible, there is a bit more to this whole situation.
We are the first generation of parents to handle the online world. We are learning as we go along and many of us are bound to make mistakes. We are, without question, responsible for what happens in our families but a helping hand from the social media giants would be no bad thing.
If age verification checks were stricter and it was more difficult for a youngster to sign up for an account, it would be an enormous help. If a parent had to give consent and confirm their child was old enough for an account, parents would probably take more interest in what their kids were doing.
Earlier this year the UK Government announced it was going to set up a regulator to enforce new standards in the online world. Social media companies would have a “duty of care” to protect users and this would include stopping those under 13 years of age from accessing social media platforms.
If greater regulation forces social media companies to improve their age verification processes and it stops children using platforms that are inappropriate, I’m all for it and it can’t happen soon enough. It’s too easy for pre-teens to set up social media accounts and it’s a problem that needs addressing.
Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you feel under pressure to let your pre-teen access and use social media channels? Do you think age verification checks should be improved? I’d love to know what you think to please do leave a comment with your opinions and experiences.