Facebook is about to lock a lot more underage users out of their accounts
Facebook is going to start blocking users under the age of 13 from accessing their accounts. The move comes as a bid to enforce its age restriction policy, which dictates that users must be 13 or over to create an account.
Now, those suspected of being under the requisite age of 13 will be required proof of age. Although just want ID 13-year-olds are toting around with them is quite another question.
Facebook and Instagram both require users to be over the age of 13 to create accounts, in order to adhere to the US Child Online Privacy Protection Act. However, a recent investigative report from Channel 4 revealed that, in reality, users routinely ride roughshod over the restriction.
No longer. Facebook’s reviewers will now lock the accounts of those suspected of being underage any time their account is flagged for review (not just if it is reported as potentially underage, as was formerly the case). In order for suspected pre-teens to access their accounts, they’ll be required to provide a form of ID proving that they’re at least 13 years old.
However, socially savvy pre-teens needn’t despair. Facebook offers a “safe” Messenger Kids app, which extends solely to children and is expanding across more countries and more devices. The app has, predictably, elicited some negative response from parents, who are wary of introducing children to social media at such a long age.
Back in March, Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) made known his plans to push that further, plans which included enforcing screen time cutoffs for UK children on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Talking to the Sunday Times, Hancock explained that the negative impacts of social media need to be dealt with, and he laid out his idea for an age-verification system, which would work like the new 18+ porn access restrictions due to take effect later this year.
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“There is a genuine concern about the screen time young people are clocking up and the negative impact it could have on their lives,” he said. “Companies that have thrived in the internet revolution like Google and Twitter were so focused on developing the technology that they didn’t think about the collateral damage they could cause.”
He outlined that age-verification could be handled similarly to film classifications, with sites like YouTube being restricted to those over 18, for example, but handled completely by parents. The worrying thing, however, is his plans to create mandatory screen time cutoffs for all children. Referencing the porn restrictions he said: “People said ‘How are you going to police that?’ I said if you don’t have it, we will take down your website in Britain. The end result is that the big porn sites are introducing this globally, so we are leading the way.”
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The thing is, we’re then moving towards a society where the government legislates what children access, and the blame shouldn’t entirely fall at social media platforms’ feet. Surely, parents should be taking the bulk of the responsibility for their children rather than the government or the social media platforms?
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“The social media companies have been failing in their duty of care to children and we are going to require them to take that care,” he added.
Considering that a recent Oxford Internet Institute suggested that guidelines on screen time are too strict, with there being little support for the theory that screen time is bad for children’s psychological well-being, mandatory screen time cutoffs seems a little heavy handed. While the study was based around overall screen use, and didn’t take into account social media, Hancock’s plans seem to largely encompass the former.
The problem still lies in whether it’s the government’s duty to police children’s social media use. As Dr. Alicia Blum-Ross, of LSE’s Parenting for a Digital Future project, explained to us: “The worry is that if parents are offered ever-greater tech solutions, they may absolve themselves of doing really other essential parenting duties.”
The jury’s still out on whether allowing kids to grow up saturated in social media is harmful or not, but there’s been a wealth of studies highlighting the psychological and social benefits of social media. If screen time regulation comes to pass, though, the outcome will be decided for us.