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Children's social media ban could be discussed

Shannon Johnstone,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 Jul 2024, 5:00am
Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

Children's social media ban could be discussed

Shannon Johnstone,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 Jul 2024, 5:00am

As calls to ban social media for children under 16 grow in Australia, some people think it is a conversation that could be had here.

Australia’s Government has pledged $6.5 million to trial age verification technology, recommended by the eSafety Commissioner.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has supported calls to limit children’s access to social media platforms and opposition leader Peter Dutton has pledged to implement a ban if in Government.

It comes after South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas said his state government will legislate to prohibit those under 14 from accessing accounts, while New South Wales Premier Chris Minns has suggested his state will also look into it.

However, the New Zealand Government has said it is not something it is currently considering.
Social media and internet access can impact young people’s psychological wellbeing and mental health, clinical psychologist and CEO of Umbrella Wellbeing, Dougal Sutherland, said.

Negative impacts include online bullying, exposure to pornography and sexual images, exposure to extremist content and young people spending too much time online and not doing anything else, he said.

“It’s the relentlessness of it...it’s difficult to get away from, it’s everywhere you go and it’s always with you.

“It’s the exposure of difficult materials that a young person is only just learning how to deal with... I think [it is] more of a challenge for young people because they’re still learning about how to cope with the real world, that’s part of adolescence.”

Sutherland believes there are good intentions behind the debate in Australia, but he is not convinced a ban would solve the problems.

Social media companies have an obligation to be more diligent in checking ages and protecting young people from exposure to harmful content, and there is a wider societal obligation to help young people learn how to navigate social media, he said.

Labour Party spokesperson for Children and Youth, Willow-Jean Prime, believes it is a discussion the country could have.

In her former role as youth minister, a common thing she was told by young people was the role social media plays in their mental health.

“It would be really good, in this conversation and debate, to talk to young people themselves so that they can express what their experiences have been...a youth voice is so important.”

Prime also thinks social media companies have an obligation to ensure the safety of young people online.

Minister of Internal Affairs, Brooke van Velden, said she understands extensive social media use can be harmful to children, which is why the Government has banned using cell phones in schools.
She said she empathizes with parents wanting to protect children from online harm and her priority is removing the worst content.

The Department of Internal Affairs recently increased the number of blocked URLs that host child sexual abuse material from 700 to 30,000.

However, the Minister is not considering a legal age limit for social media.

Shannon Johnstone is a journalist at Newstalk ZB based in Auckland covering education and general news. She joined Newstalk ZB in 2021 and previously worked at Hawke's Bay Today.

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