The Federal Government has earmarked $6.5 million from the 2024-25 budget to explore the efficacy of age assurance technologies in curbing children’s exposure to age-inappropriate content on social media platforms.

The initiative aims to assess whether these technologies can positively impact the mental well-being of children, amidst growing concerns regarding their online safety.

With an increasing number of Australian parents advocating for a complete ban on social media usage for children under the age of 16, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has echoed these sentiments.

However, opinions within state governments remain varied, highlighting the complexity of the issue.

NSW Premier, Chris Minns, said that he does not think children under the age of 16 should have any access to social media platforms.

“I think (16) is the right age or at least the limit,” Mr Minns told 2GB Radio.

Whereas the South Australian Government believes they should look into introducing ‘parental permission’ for children aged 14 and 15, Queensland Premier wants an under-14 age ban and Victoria ideally is pushing for a national response to the issue.

The NSW Government is aiming to lead the way at the Social Media Summit in October to address the issue with academics, government policymakers and representatives from the social media platforms to be in attendance.

At the core of the debate lie questions concerning privacy and the feasibility of relying solely on social media platforms to enforce age restrictions, as most are not Australian-based companies.

Presently, major platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have a minimum age requirement of 13, raising doubts about their ability to effectively regulate access to age-sensitive content.

While some argue for a complete ban on social media for children under 16 as a solution to these concerns, critics point out that prohibition may not effectively address the root causes of the problem.

Advocates argue that children have a fundamental right to access social media platforms safely.

Communications and Media Masters Graduate, Melissa Holt believed it is almost unfair to take this access away from children completely.

“I understand everyone is just wanting to protect their privacy and prevent online abuse, but we should actually just be promoting digital literacy, Miss Hold said.

“By addressing the root causes of these issues, which let’s face it – is probably most likely stemming from adults – we can create actually create a safer online environment for children to us.”

Medical professionals and educators have voiced concerns about the adverse effects of unrestricted social media access on children already.

These include risks of online bullying, harassment, exposure to inappropriate content, dissemination of misinformation, grooming, and privacy breaches.

Moreover, excessive social media usage has been linked to low self-esteem and various mental health issues among children.

Multiple studies have found social media usage has significantly increased among adolescents, with Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube being the most popular.

A study noted that 76 per cent of Australian adolescents between the ages of 15-17 use social media, with a substantial increase in daily usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Trying to show children how to navigate social media is like stepping into a digital minefield and I’ve seen firsthand the dangers of cyberbullying, privacy breaches, and addiction,” Miss Hold said.

“Although we mustn’t forget that it is not the children who are making these platforms dangerous to be on and I think that is also something to seriously consider messing with their rights to talk to connect with people and express themselves.”

In response to these concerns, a News Corp campaign titled “Let Them Be Kids” has been launched, urging the government to raise the minimum age for social media usage.

The campaign emphasises the need to prioritise children’s safety and well-being in the digital age and includes a petition that is circulating on the very platforms that are in question.

Prime Minister Albanese stated at a press conference in May that children and social media issues were a major concern for parents.

“Every parent is concerned about the impact of social media. I think it’s time we take strong action, but we want to make sure that strong action is effective,” Mr Albanese said.

Illawarra mother of three, Michelle James said she was worried about the increased screen time on her children.

“There’s just so much out there that they’re not ready for, and I barely can keep track of what I’m even consuming let alone three very curious teenagers,” Mrs James said.

It is hoped the testing age assurance technologies will help develop effective strategies to protect children from harmful online content while fostering a safer digital environment for all users.

‘Let Them Be Kids’ Campaign By News Corp