Australia Plans Strictest Online Privacy and Parental Consent Law for Minors on Social Media

Photo: (Photo : CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia could soon require kids younger than 16 years old to obtain parental consent to be on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. In the strictest online privacy and parental consent law just yet, the government leaders of the land Down Under have introduced a bill that will make online platforms liable if they operate online without any parental consent measures.

Under the measure, social media sites used by Australian netizens are responsible for verifying the user's age. These sites should have a good system of getting the parent's permission if the user is younger than 16 years old. 

According to reports, websites that are not as robust against children's access to online media could face a fine of up to $7.5 million if the bill becomes a law. The Australian government said that the parental consent requirement is one way of ensuring that social media sites will remain appropriate for the digital age.

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Protecting the Kids Mental Health

The main purpose of enforcing the strict age restriction is to protect the children's mental health and wellness amid reports that Facebook's own research indicated that social media use might cause depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts in kids. A former Facebook product developer leaked the research's result as the social site plans to create a separate platform for minors.

Facebook defended the research as a way for their teams to understand what the users experience and need from their platforms. The surveys were not designed to measure the changes and impact of their products on the children's mental health. Thus, any conclusions that came out of the leak were taken out of context, according to company officials.

However, some mental health experts have said that Facebook has been "completely disingenuous" in its research results. Independent researchers worldwide have also come up with the same findings of children's social media use and its impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing.

David Coleman, Australia's Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, said in a statement that they have seen increasing signs of mental health issues among the youth even before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Though the reasons for this are "varied and complex," Coleman said that "social media is part of the problem."

Facebook Reviewing Australia's Parental Consent Bill

Mia Garlick, Facebook's head for public policy, said that they are reviewing the bill and will look forward to working with the Australian government. Garlick emphasized that they have been supportive of legislation about young people's data on their platform. They recently complied with the U.K.'s Age Appropriate Design Code.

In early 2021, Australia has also required Facebook and other platforms to pay taxes for carrying news content. The Australian government has also imposed laws that could imprison the heads of these social media companies for violent content.

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