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What’s the point of laws banning kids from social media if EVERYONE just ignores them?

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So when was the last time you agreed to one of your kids under the age of 16 to use their Instagram or Tik-Tok account?

Or when was the last time you sent a message to one of your children via WhatsApp?

Do you understand that in Ireland only people over the age of 16 can use the above content without your consent? (In fact, WhatsApp prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from using its website, whether they consent or not).

Does it disturb you?

Oh, but of course you are very concerned about the harm that can be done to vulnerable children on social media: the predators that lurk there and the bullies that can seriously harm an adolescent’s mental health.

Yes, all of this concerns you.

But no, you don’t know or care about the laws that prevent this. Is that an appropriate summary of the attitude of the vast majority of parents in this country to the wild west landscape of social media?

I firmly believe in it.

The rise and rise of the online world has been faced with a strange attitude, not just in Ireland but in almost every jurisdiction around the world.

It is known that social media, in all of its uses, can be harmful and dangerous, especially for young people. There is also a realization that the giant social media giants are doing very little to address these negative aspects of their empires.

But understand this – even when laws are drafted and implemented, no one blindly observes them. There does not appear to be any surveillance of these new laws, and consequently no prosecution.

I was reminded of this bizarre situation this week when I read that Australia is starting a crackdown on the age of consent on social media.

New data protection laws in this country are designed to force children under the age of 16 to get permission from a parent or guardian before logging into a social media account.

Aha, I thought, that’s a great idea.

Australia has recently built a reputation for being a global leader in battling these social media giants who are treating the world like their personal piggy bank: a place with no borders, few rights and fewer responsibilities.

Earlier this year, the government was the first to pass a law designed to make Google and Facebook pay for news content on their platforms.

Now the plan was to bring it to the social media giants by introducing strict subscriber and user age laws and fines of up to $ 10 million for violating those rules.

“The privacy practices of online platforms can be harmful to children and vulnerable people, including the disclosure of data for advertising purposes or the use of harmful tracking, profiling or targeted marketing,” says the draft law.

It was a timely announcement as Facebook recently faced a barrage of criticism after former employee Frances Haugen leaked internal studies claiming the company knew of possible harm from its websites.

It all sounded like a great idea: more strength for Australia’s elbows, I thought.

Except for one fatal mistake.

If this new legislation is anything like legislation already introduced elsewhere in the world – including yes, here in Ireland – it is doomed to use about as much as a handbrake on an out of control Rocket.

That’s because it is carefully ignored by many actors in this ongoing drama: the children it is supposed to protect; the parents they are supposed to protect; the social media giants supposed to be monitoring it; the enforcement groups to oversee it; and the courts they are supposed to implement.

It turns a blind eye because … well, I’m really not sure why the world is so lax when it comes to monitoring the internet, but it is; I know that many who read this will be complicit in this as well.

As I mentioned earlier, Ireland already has laws in place regarding children using social media platforms.

Article 8 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has instructed countries in the EU to set a minimum age from which online service providers, including social media companies, can rely on the consent of the child to process their personal data.

In Ireland, the 2018 Data Protection Act sets the age for digital consent to 16 years.

This means that if an organization relies on consent as the legal basis for processing a child’s personal data and the child is under 16 years of age, then consent must be given or approved by the child’s parent or guardian.

Well, it’s not that the many GDPR rules have been knowingly disregarded by businesses and individuals since they came into effect. On the contrary, it is recognized that they are necessary and there to protect people.

But when it comes to Article 8 … well, have you heard of any arrests, warnings, fines or charges lately?

Ireland received praise and praise for introducing the under 16 restriction back in 2018. When the EU passed the GDPR rules, it allowed member states to set their own minimum age a user must be before a social media and internet company could collect, process and store their data, with a minimum age of 13 years .

Ireland has set its minimum at 16, along with France, the Netherlands and Germany.

Other countries like the UK, Denmark and Sweden set their minimum age at 13, which is the common minimum age to join, which is set by the social media giants themselves.

But what’s the point of setting a minimum age if the law is blatantly ignored by everyone?

It is understandable, but not forgivable, I want to quickly add that the social media giants will do whatever is necessary when it comes to restricting access to their websites. To join Facebook, for example, all you need is a first and last name, a valid email address, a password, a gender and a date of birth. The only information Twitter looks for is a name, a unique email address, a password, and a username.

In fact, it is understandable and entirely forgivable that police forces and other law enforcement agencies around the world have better things to do than arrest the parents of 15-year-old Tadgh for sending a WhatsApp message.

What I do not understand and find simply unforgivable is that so many parents like to join in this unholy dance and allow their children to open social media accounts without consent and then simply let them run free with whom to talk to and what they post.

I fear the online world of the Wild West will continue to wreak havoc in the minds of people too young, immature, and vulnerable to understand the nature of the internet beast until parents begin to exercise their right to do so to play the rules.

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