Premiers unite in call for social media bans for kids

Millions of Australian children could be barred from using social media platforms under age-limit changes floated by state premiers who want bolstered protections for young people against online harm.

The leaders of NSW, Queensland and Victoria united on Monday in a push to lift age minimums on major operators such as the Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok.

All of the platforms require users to be at least 13 years old, but that limit could be lifted to as high as 16 under a proposal from NSW.

South Australia is investigating if it can impose social-media bans for children aged under 14 and parental permission for those aged under 16 amid rising concern over harms of social media content on minors.

Those changes would be a national first and follow legislated restrictions on children using social media accounts in other countries such as Spain, as well as some US states.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said he wanted a minimum age of 16 for social media users, while his Queensland counterpart Steven Miles nominated 14 as the floor.

Victoria Premier Jacinta Allan did not specify a minimum age but called for the platforms’ limits to be raised or for Australia to set its own limits.

Meta and TikTok have been contacted for comment.

Mr Minns said he was moved to act after seeing social media’s impact in his time as premier and due to his experience as a father of three boys.

“Obnoxious” social-media algorithms were “designed to keep children glued to the device rather than ripping it away and speaking with family and friends and getting out of the house”, he said.

NSW preferred a national approach but would go it alone if a federal age minimum of 16 could not be made to happen quickly, Mr Minns said.

However, his government was yet to determine what power it had to regulate platforms at a state level, he said.

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the coalition strongly supported age verification for social media, which was a key part of “deeply disturbing” trends in children’s mental health.

“It’s difficult to make the case for children under the age of 16 being on social media, especially when we’ve seen the harmful effects that it can have on our children,” he said in a statement.

The federal Labor government has indicated it supports tighter restrictions on children accessing social media.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the age limit was still being worked out as a verification trial was completed using funding allocated in the recent budget.

“We’ve got to get the age right and we’ve got to get the technological implementation right,” he told ABC Radio.

Mobile phones have been banned in public-school classrooms in all states in an attempt to limit distractions and mitigate harm.

The NSW government on Monday also announced a state summit to look at the impact of social media platforms on young people.

It will bring in experts including policy makers and academics, as well as representatives of the main platforms.

Mr Minns called the snap summit because he believed the “biggest issue facing parents is kids’ access and exposure to devices and social media”.

A large body of evidence showed social media carried risks for young people, including high rates of mental health issues, the government said.


Sam McKeith
(Australian Associated Press)


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