It seems like every week, the news has reported on social platforms and the damages they can likely cause if they are acting in bad faith. With the emerging criticism with recent whistleblower documents that showed how Facebook leadership knew how harmful Facebook and Instagram platforms are at spreading misinformation and the growing damage to children’s self-esteem, it is not surprising that regulations have followed. 

One of the more recent reactions has been from Australia, which would require Facebook and other social media companies to ensure that the best interests of a child are the primary consideration during the collection, use, and disclosure of a child’s personal information. For children under 16 years old, social media platforms would need to obtain parental approval to set up an account.

Australia’s Online Privacy Bill threatens fines of up to $10M ($7.5M US) for internet platforms that fail to comply. 

What Does This Mean For Social Media?

Research shows that ninety percent of teens ages 13-17 have used social media. Seventy-five percent report having at least one active social media profile, and 51% report visiting a social media site daily. Two-thirds of teens have their own mobile devices with internet capabilities, and these numbers are only growing. 

Many are starting to realize these regulations are much needed. Still, some are also concerned about what it means for social platforms that rely on younger audiences for brand promotion and engagement. Furthermore, we can probably expect other countries to follow Australia’s lead in the coming months.

But these regulations do not necessarily have to affect engagement as long as the content is appropriate and does not exploit children. 

“Algorithms that direct kids to content such as eating-disorder content or extreme-dieting content, self-harm content and so on—plainly not in the best interest of children,” David Coleman, Australia’s assistant minister for mental health, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “And that will be unlawful in Australia in the future.”

Other social media companies, like Reddit and dating apps like Bumble, would also be required to take steps to determine users’ ages and prioritize children’s interests when collecting data, the Online Privacy Bill said.

CNN reported that the new proposed rules would put Australia among the most restrictive countries in terms of age controls for social media and build on efforts to rein in the power of “Big Tech” and toughen laws against online misinformation as well. 

But it’s not just social media that would be affected. Data-brokerage services, such as credit-reporting agencies, and large online platforms, including Alphabet’s Google, would be subject to some new requirements. Still, they are not as restrictive as the regulations pinned on social media platforms.

“Given the information we have seen emerging from social-media companies in recent times, it is clear these companies need more oversight, not less,” Michaelia Cash, Australia’s attorney general, said in a written statement.


In Closing

Although there are some concerns about how these growing regulations will affect brands and social media influencers, no one is surprised either. Suppose brands and influencers are using ethical means to engage younger audiences. In that case, social platforms should be able to continue safe engagement – and maybe even garner more confidence with parents if they feel their children are safer when using these platforms. 

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In Australia, Parental Consent May Become Required For Minors On Social Media

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