Grattan on Friday: age verification for social media is no easy task, but the government can’t sit by and do nothing (2024)

While federal politics often seems “top down”, some issues are pushed onto the national agenda from lower levels. We’re seeing this with the increasing concern to protect kids from the harmful effects of social media.

This week Prime Minister Anthony Albanese sympathised with calls for limits on children’s access to social media, while last week’s budget allocated funds for a trial of age verification, originally recommended by the eSafety Commissioner. The government in November also brought forward by a year the scheduled review of the Online Safety Act.

But on the whole, the federal government has been lagging behind the states and activist parents on an issue that has immense ramifications for a young generation that has been recording increased levels of stress and mental health problems.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas has recently said his government will legislate, if feasible, to prohibit children under 14 accessing social media accounts. For those aged 14-15, parental consent would be needed.

This week Malinauskas had talks in Washington with the United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about the issue. The premier later told the Adelaide Advertiser Murthy had endorsed the SA plan.

“[Murthy] was essentially saying, governments don’t have time to waste because this is now creating almost a mental health emergency among young people.” Murthy also told him young people were more open to the idea of relinquishing social media than often thought, if their friends were off it, too.

In New South Wales, Premier Chris Minns this week announced a summit, to be held in October, “to address the increasing harm online platforms are having on children and young people”.

In Minns’ electorate of Kogarah, in Sydney’s south, there’s been intense activity on the issue. A group of parents with children at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School and St Ursula’s College got together a few years ago to discuss delaying their kids getting onto smartphones and social media.

Parent Dany Elachi, whose daughter was ten at the time, told me they thought concerted action gave them the best chance of “staying the course” against the pressure from their children’s complaints, or pleas, that “everyone else” had a smartphone.

The group of parents had no connection with Minns, then opposition leader, until reading an article by him in their local paper. His concerns chimed with their own and they reached out to him.

The Heads Up Alliance is now a national movement of thousands of Australian parents delaying smartphones and social media for their children.

The group lobbied Catholic authorities, and there is now a widespread ban on mobile phones in Sydney Catholic schools.

Minns, as premier last year, implemented a ban on mobile phones in NSW public schools. All states and territories have acted on phone bans, with Queensland and the ACT falling into line earlier this year.

These have been important steps, but perhaps the easy ones. More robust action involves greater challenges to big tech and their revenue and customer streams. Capturing the kids is central to their business models.

The Albanese government has already had a taste of what taking on big tech can look like in its fight with Elon Musk over the eSafety Commissioner’s demand that X (formerly Twitter) remove a post showing the stabbing of a bishop at a Sydney Assyrian church.

Tougher action in dealing with social media is one area where potential bipartisanship should be possible. Federal opposition communications spokesman David Coleman has been a strong proponent of protecting children and age verification.

The NSW summit will be attended by senior officials, academics, representatives from other jurisdictions, and people from leading social media platforms.

The idea of age-limited access to social media – the next logical step – is guaranteed to be a hot topic.

While states have been leading the way, to have a prospect of working properly, any legislated ban on young people accessing social media sites needs to be national. There are likely also constitutional constraints to be overcome. Minns has expressed doubt a ban would be enforceable at the state level.

Some social media companies argue they don’t accept children under 13 setting up accounts. But this has been unenforceable, even assuming the companies wanted to enforce it.

Albanese said: “We want to make sure that any changes that are made actually work. You don’t want them being circumvented around the side door, if you like.”

That’s right – up to a point. It should not be an excuse for avoiding action. In reality, no ban is likely to be absolutely watertight.

Critics of a ban cite privacy, concerned about the sort of information that would be handed to tech companies to establish a user’s age. But age has to be proven in many circ*mstances, and various methods could be used to minimise the privacy problem.

Also, some critics say social media is important especially for young people who need connection; they say there would be harm in denying this to them. Here it’s a question of weighing one side against the other: the negatives of social media against the positives for young people.

In his recent widely-publicised book, The Anxious Generation, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues Gen Z (born after 1995) have been “rewired”. He dubs them the “the anxious generation”.

With a combination of over-protective parents and the ubiquity of modern tech, Haidt says we’ve seen a move from a “play-based childhood” to a “phone-based childhood”.

“Gen Z became the first generation in history to go through puberty with a portal in their pockets that called them away from the people nearby and into an alternative universe that was exciting, addictive, unstable, and […] unsuitable for children and adolescents,” Haidt writes.

This had serious consequences for their mental health, he argues, with girls adversely affected in particular by social media, and boys more by p*rnography and addiction to video gaming.

While Haidt primarily writes of the American scene, he includes findings from other western countries, which he says show similar trends.

Haidt prescribes four lines of action. Parents should not give their children smartphones before high school. Children should not be on social media before 16. Schools should be phone-free. Children should have more unsupervised play and childhood independence.

Those who fear that social media, for all its pluses, can be a serious threat to young people, will believe a lot more needs to be done than we’re doing now. The burden is not one that can be carried by government, schools, or other authorities alone. Parents must also do their part. But parents need help from the institutions to do it.

Back at ground zero in the battle to curb harm from social media, Dany and his wife have “stayed the course”. Their daughter, now almost 15, doesn’t have a smartphone or a social media account. “We bought her a basic phone,” Dany says. “But it’s so unappealing she rarely uses it.”

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Grattan on Friday: age verification for social media is no easy task, but the government can’t sit by and do nothing (2024)

FAQs

Why is age verification bad? ›

But age-verification requirements have drawn many critics, from the American Civil Liberties Union to p*rnhub to online privacy experts. Detractors note that such laws endanger adults' digital anonymity and put personal data at risk.

Which states have age verification laws? ›

Age verification is now the standard in numerous states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. In Utah and Connecticut, more targeted laws require social media users to verify their ages.

What can I use as age verification? ›

Instructions
  1. Driver's license.
  2. Proof of Age card.
  3. Passport.

Why is Google trying to verify my age? ›

Whilst we currently don't ask for a credit card during sign up, verifying your age through a small credit card transaction is one way to confirm that you meet our age requirements in case your account was disabled after you have entered a birthday indicating you are not old enough to have a Google Account.

What happens if you fail age verification online? ›

Failing to follow age verification laws can bring serious legal consequences, such as fines, limits on doing business, or reputational damage for your brand.

What state has the youngest legal age? ›

Alaska. The age of consent is 16, provided the older partner is not in a position of authority.

How do I confirm I am over 18 on Google? ›

If you meet the minimum age requirements, you can use a government ID or credit card to verify your age. If you take or upload a photo of your ID, your ID will be securely stored, won't be made public, and will be deleted after your date of birth is successfully verified.

What is anonymous age verification? ›

Zero-Knowledge proofs verify a person's age without disclosing their identity, either to the receiver, such as a business, or the verifying entity, like a government that issues a passport.

How does TikTok verify age? ›

Depending on how you've chosen to confirm your date of birth, we'll share the information you submit with our service providers, who help us check if your ID is authentic, estimate your age from your selfie or make a temporary credit card authorization.

How to get 17+ roblox? ›

How to verify your Age ID
  1. Login to your account.
  2. Go to Settings (the gear icon located at the upper-right corner of the site)
  3. Select the Account Info tab.
  4. Underneath your birthday, click the button that says Verify My Age.
  5. A popup will appear and on your desktop computer, you will see a QR code.

How do I prove my age verification? ›

Proof Of Your Age
  1. birth certificate recorded after you were age 5,
  2. school record,
  3. State census record,
  4. vaccination record,
  5. insurance policy,
  6. hospital admission record, etc.
Jul 29, 2022

What are the disadvantages of verification? ›

The Disadvantages of Manual Verification
  • High possibility of error.
  • Makes for less efficient workflow and production.
  • Time-consuming.
  • Requires greater resources.
  • Costly with regards to labour and revision time.
  • High risk, larger probability of defects and product recalls.
Jan 20, 2022

What does verify my age do? ›

VerifyMyAge provides age assurance (age verification and age estimation) while ensuring your customers are not distracted from their purchase or online experience. Our solution can be integrated either directly - within the browser post-checkout - or indirectly through email or SMS.

What happens if you don't verify your age on Google? ›

If you choose not to set up supervision or verify you're old enough to manage your account within 14 days, your account will be disabled and your account information will be deleted after 30 days.

Why should apps have age restrictions? ›

Having stricter age limits on social media can prevent young kids from running into issues such as cyberbullying, body image issues, mental health problems, and other things that they should not have to deal with at a young age.

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