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Political push against ‘problematic’ social media use by young people ramps up

There is increasing political support to increase the age of children who are able to access social media platforms.

There is increasing political support to increase the age of children who are able to access social media platforms. Photo: Getty

As debate intensifies about banning people under the age of 16 from social media, new research has found that excessive mobile phone and social media use is common among young people battling mental health issues.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese came out in support of raising the minimum age for social media use on Tuesday, following the launch of a campaign to ban children under 16 from accessing sites.

“What we want is our youngest Australians spending more time outside playing sport, engaging with each other in a normal way and less time online,” he said on radio station Nova FM.

“One way to do that is through restrictions on social media.”

State premiers in South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Victoria have all called for increasing the age of access to social media platforms, although they aren’t united on an age.

South Australia’s Peter Malinauskas, one of the first premiers to float the idea, and New South Wales Premier Chris Minns both landed on 16, while Queensland Premier Stephen Miles said he’d support increasing the age to 14.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has previously come out in support of age-gating both pornographic material and social media platforms.

Radio presenter Michael Wipfli and film production CEO Rob Galluzzo recently launched a campaign called ‘36 Months’, urging the government to increase the minimum age to use social media platforms.

‘Problematic’ usage

Political discourse may be raging in Australia, but researchers from King’s College in the United Kingdom have found that high levels of social media and smartphone use among teens and young adults are common among those accessing mental health support.

The findings from the study of 362 young people who self-reported questionnaire data found that “self-harm, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and digital technology overuse are prevalent among clinical youth”.

“These findings emphasise the importance of increased investment in prevention and early intervention to reduce the risk of self-harm occurring in at-risk youth,” the study said.

“Findings also add weight to screening patients for self-harm and interventions for young people with a history of self-harm to reduce the risk of repeat or an escalation in self-harm, as well as digital technology use interventions for clinical youth populations for whom social media use has become problematic.”

Problematic social media use is defined as a distinct pattern of use that has addiction-like symptoms, based on behaviour and frequency of use. Photo: AAP

How would it be policed?

A litany of evidence has shown that regardless of the age listed in a platform’s terms of service, underage users can and will access social media, raising questions on how access limitation would be implemented and policed.

The federal government announced a $6.5 million trial of age verification for the internet after the live-streaming and proliferation of a stabbing video of a Sydney-based cleric.

But it hasn’t yet released details on how it will be implemented.

John Pane, chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, said harmful content is subjective and is ultimately a “political catch-all which we know has been weaponised against marginalised groups”.

“Age verification is a difficult technical problem, and there is no real information on cost or transparency on the technical approach to be used,” he said.

“Low-end estimates for the cost of age verification from hearings in California point to it being exorbitant, well exceeding revenue even for sizeable platforms like Reddit.”

Another recently released research paper, from the University of Sydney, found that 72 per cent of young people and 86 per cent of parents “believed more effective age limits would improve online safety for young people”.

Data collected by the eSafety Commission found that 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds have accounts on three platforms on average.

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