Nation-leading move to protect our children from social media

SA Gov

The Malinauskas Labor Government has appointed former Chief Justice of the High Court Robert French AC to conduct a legal examination into banning children under the age of 14 from having social media accounts.

The nation-leading move comes amid mounting concern among experts and the community more broadly about the adverse impact of social media on children, including exposure to inappropriate, illegal and restricted content, cyber bullying and negative impacts on children’s mental health and development.

As one of the nation’s pre-eminent legal minds, Robert French has been tasked with examining the legal, regulatory and technological pathways for the State Government to impose a ban, while also giving due consideration to the constitutional framework.

In addition to imposing a ban on all children under the age of 14 having access to a social media account, South Australia would also require parental consent for children aged 14 and 15.

The changes would be the first of their type in Australia but would follow a growing number of global jurisdictions banning social media access for children.

In March this year, the US state of Florida legislated to ban social media accounts for children under 14, and requiring parental permission for 14 and 15 year-olds, while Texas has legislated to require parental consent before allowing a user under the age of 18 to open an account. Spain also bans children under 14 from accessing a social network.

A survey by Australian mental health service ReachOut this year found social media is the number one issue of concern among parents and carers of children – with 59 per cent saying they were concerned about their child’s use of social media and 55 per cent saying social media had a significant impact on their child’s wellbeing.

Recent research in the United States found adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes.

Robert French AC served as Chief Justice of the High Court from 2008 to 2017. He served as a judge of the Federal Court of Australia from 1986 to 2017. Mr French previously undertook a review on freedom of speech and academic freedom for the Federal Government in 2019 and chaired the Law Council’s Access to Justice Project from 2017 to 2018.

He is currently the Chancellor of the University of Western Australia and the Chair of the Constitution Education Fund Australia which is focussed on civics education.

As put by Peter Malinauskas

Like most parents, I am concerned about the impact social media is having on children in our community.

We are seeing mounting evidence from experts of the adverse impact of social media on children, their mental health and development.

I am determined to ensure as a government we are doing everything we can to protect our children.

As one of the nation’s pre-eminent legal minds, former Chief Justice of the High Court Robert French AC is well-placed to conduct this nation-leading legal examination for South Australia.

As put by Sonya Ryan OAM, Founder & CEO of The Carly Ryan Foundation

The Carly Ryan Foundation applauds the South Australian Government’s move to impose a ban for children using social media under the age of 14 years.

Social media presents a ‘profound risk of harm’ for kids. Children do not have the life experience or the cognitive and executive functioning to think through harmful situations online, sometimes placing themselves at real physical risk.

Children are exposed to harmful content, including dangerous viral trends, pornography, online predators looking to sexually exploit them, cyberbullying and sextortion.

Numerous studies show that social media use among young children is linked to adverse effects, including unrealistic expectations and perceptions which can lead to severe depression, anxiety, inadequate sleep, low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorder behaviours and online harassment.

In my opinion the only way forward is to create appropriate legislation to protect our children from these harms and regulate big tech companies to include mandatory age verification across all platforms.

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