SA government pushes social media ban for children, but one expert says platforms need to be more accountable

SA government pushes social media ban for children, but one expert says platforms need to be more accountable
  • PublishedMay 13, 2024

Legislation to hold major technology companies accountable would be better than a push to block children from having social media accounts, a communications expert says.

The South Australian government has announced what it says is an “ambitious” first step to protect children from social media and its harmful impacts on their mental health.

Former High Court Chief Justice Robert French has been appointed, at no cost to the state, to examine the legal pathways for the SA government to impose the ban on children under the age of 14.

Under the proposal, children aged 14 and 15 would require parental consent to access a social media account.

Catherine Page Jeffery, a media and communications lecturer at University of Sydney, said having a blanket ban was not a good idea.

“Banning things might seem like the easy answer, I think it rarely is,” Dr Page Jeffery said.

“Maybe we need to be legislating, to hold some of these super powerful platforms to a better standard – and that seems like a better approach than legislating to actually deny young people the right to participate online.”

A headshot of a woman with blonde hair and reading glasses
Catherine Page Jeffery said having a blanket ban on social media for children under 14 was not a good idea.(Supplied)

Dr Page Jeffery said parents should be working out the rules of using social media as their children are reaching their teen years and have their own mobile phones.

“Rather than having this blanket guidelines or restrictions, parents should be making those decisions based on the maturity, the risk appetite or the general personality of their children,” she said.

“I think it’s really important to remember that managing risks and developing resilience are really important skills for young people to develop and they’ll miss out on that if we just ban social media altogether.”

If the state government succeeds in introducing the ban, it will be a first in Australia, joining other jurisdictions such as Spain and the US state of Florida, where similar legislation has passed.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas said numerous studies had shown excessive use of social media was unhealthy for children.

“There has been much examination and consequential evidence to suggest that addictive algorithms are being used to draw young people in, in a way that their developing minds are just not capable to be able to deal with,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“The proliferation of social media is not just the concern about access to content that is not healthy, but even the excessive use of social media itself is attributable to mental illness.

“Our kids are being harmed now, and there’s no time to waste. I don’t want to sit around waiting for someone else. Let’s lead.”

A man with dark, short hair and a serious expression speaks in front of SA government backdrop.
Peter Malinauskas wants South Australia to take the lead with this ban.(ABC News: Carl Saville)

Mr Malinauskas said it was “high time that governments globally caught up with the fact that parents are looking for support and looking for intervention to limit the use of social media” from technological companies.

“I’ve got a clear message to the owners of Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok and every other platform: if you are a social media giant and you are making money off the back of making our children unwell, we will not stop to see change,” he said.

“You’ve got a choice – you can work with us to see to this change being effective and practical or work against us and face a tidal wave of concern from community that governments will ultimately respond to.”

The premier said Mr French’s investigation, which has no deadline imposed, would also look at how to enforce the ban.

“The constitution makes clear that generally speaking media is the responsibility of the federal government but mental health issues are often the responsibility of states,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“If indeed the advice comes back to Mr French that this is very difficult for state governments to regulate, then I think it will leave an open field for the federal parliament to act.”

Last month, the federal opposition urged the government to trial age verification that would lock children out of social media platforms.

Carly Ryan Foundation spokesperson Liz Durdin applauded the initiative to make tech giants accountable, saying children are being exposed to age-inappropriate content and sex-tortion.

“Despite recommendations of ages of 13-plus on most social media apps, kids are able to fake their date of births quite easily,” Ms Durdin said.

“We hear firsthand the types of harm that our children and young people are being exposed to and it’s happening younger and younger.

“We’ve heard of kids as young as year 7 meeting their illegal vape dealers that they’ve met through Snapchat.”

a woman stands in front of a man at a press conference with SA government banner
Liz Durdin welcomes the SA government’s move to protect children from social media.(ABC News)

The organisation, founded by Carly Ryan’s mother after the 15-year-old was groomed online and murdered, has led efforts in Australia to educate children and parents about online safety.

Ms Durdin said legislation and imposing fines would hopefully take major companies to account and protect young people.

“At the end of the day free speech does matter and it is important, what we’re talking about is legislating to protect children,” she said.

She said parents were encouraged to have open conversations with their children about online safety.


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