By: Lila Chen
“They’re just like kids on the internet.”
Well, in this day and age, they’re probably not like kids, they are kids.
Social networking businesses like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are booming— so much so that Facebook plans to remove age restrictions on users, if not for the federal law banning the collection of data on children.
However, this decision, would not make as significant an impact on children as many of us may think.
Getting an account on these popular social media platforms is undoubtedly very easy. Lying about one’s age on these platforms is even easier. Birthdates identifies the users’ ages. If kids lie about their birthdates, sites cannot confirm if their information is true. This gives kids access to age restricted sites like Vine and parts of YouTube.
According to The Guardian, surveys conducted by The Advertising Standards Authority showed that over 80 percent of kids between ages 11 and 15 years old lie about their age on the internet. 40 percent of kids also claim to be over 18 years old on the web.
With so many kids lying to access things they should not, there should be tighter regulations around age restrictions on social media sites. If an independent organization like the Advertising Standards Authority is capable of tracking down children who lie about their age, the owners of these media sites should be able to as well.
While sites like Instagram and Facebook allow fellow users to report on underaged members, this is not enough to stop kids from violating the age limit because they can create new accounts to replace the old ones that are blocked.
Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Twitter has made no major attempts to enforce its rule barring users under 13 prior to this year. In fact, users didn’t have to state their birthdates to create an account. Consequently, there is no definite way for the site to know who is underaged.
This is why Twitter struggled to uproot underaged users when a new law threatened to fine media outlets with members under 13. Twitter’s attempts were ineffective as users who were over the age limit were also locked from their accounts. However, the site has continued with its method of locking accounts despite its lack of success.
Giving underaged users access to social media sites exposes them to many things early— things that are not necessarily appropriate for their age.
Vine, which had an age limit of 12 and up, was flooded with “pornographic clips,” in 2013, NPR reported. Even with Vine’s new age limit of 17 years old, kids who intentionally lie about their age will still have access to inappropriate content.
Early exposure to age-restricted content can have many harmful effects on underaged children. A 2012 study conducted in Dartmouth College, connected “movie sexual exposure” to sexual activity for children. It revealed that early exposure to sexual content increases the probability of kids having careless sex sooner in their life. This can cause not only teen pregnancy, but many additional health risks.
It is not just exposure to sexual content that put kids in danger. Violence on the internet is not new. Without stronger regulation on age restrictions, kids will continue to be exposed to it. In turn they will think that violence is acceptable— even cool— and become violent themselves.
Parents worry about this as social media sites make things more accessible to kids on the internet. Without stronger regulation of rules like age restrictions, kids growing up in this generation will wrongfully have a shorter childhood than prior generations.