Why people are speaking out against a social media ban for teenagers

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun28,2024
Jean Hinchliffe is an author and activist who credits with first exposing her to political activism when she was around 13 or 14 years old.
She remembers coming across posts about the marriage equality campaign through Twitter and signing up to be a volunteer.
By 15, Hinchliffe was a lead organiser with School Strike 4 Climate, an organisation through which young people organised mass protests around the country calling for the government to take more serious action on climate change.
She says that School Strike organisers rely heavily on Facebook Messenger and Instagram to organise, as well as using these platforms to speak directly to young audiences.
Now 20, Hinchliffe says recent to restrict social media access to those aged 16 and above have alarmed her.
“If there isn’t a platform for that, it would be really difficult for young people to be building social movements together, when it has been facilitated through social media and through these online environments,” she said.
Hinchliffe has concerns about social media, specifically the curation of feeds driven by hidden algorithms — but she also sees the online world as an indispensable form of connection for young people.
“I think the issue isn’t young people having access to social media, but rather the social media platforms themselves and the lack of regulation around them,” she said.

“It feels like a much broader social issue of having these public town squares facilitated by private corporations that lack any sense of transparency.”

What are politicians saying about social media?

Social media age restrictions have become a bipartisan focus point in federal politics in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Opposition leader Peter Dutton both expressing support for banning under-16s from social media.
All major social media platforms currently require users to be at least 13 years old, although cybersecurity experts have said these restrictions can be bypassed.
Albanese referred to social media as a “scourge” and the government has committed $6.5 million to pilot “age assurance technologies”.

In May, the government announced an inquiry into the influence and impacts of social media on Australian society.

How does social media affect the mental health of young people?

There is little consensus among researchers on the effects that social media has on the mental health of young people.
One group of researchers from Masaryk University in the Czech Republic point to the recent publication of a book — The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness by American social psychologist Professor Jonathan Haidt — as the catalyst for these political debates.
However, the researchers say that .

The group wrote that researchers “who focus on the complex relationships between various technologies and adolescents’ wellbeing have no evidence that engagement with digital technology is resulting in worse impacts on adolescents’ mental health problems over time”.

Global data has indicated that there is a strong relationship between screen time and symptoms of depression and anxiety in adolescents.
However, , it is “unclear whether digital technology use causes poorer mental health, or whether young people with mental health symptoms simply use technology more than their healthy counterparts”.
Black Dog Institute research has also found that the mental health impacts of social media depend heavily on the type of social media being used.

Active social media use, where users are actively connecting with others, has been found to have possible mental health benefits, including emotional regulation.

Could a ban be more risky for young people?

Jackie Hallan, the interim CEO of youth mental health service ReachOut, says the organisation has major concerns about the unintended safety consequences of banning under-16s from social media.

“If there is a ban — and young people find workarounds — we know that if something goes wrong and it’s something they weren’t meant to be doing, or they don’t have their parent or carer’s permission for, they’re less likely to talk to them and they’re less likely to get support,” she said.

The eSafety commissioner cautioned this week that bans would drive some young people to access social media in secrecy, leading them to less regulated, non-mainstream services that could “increase their likelihood of exposure to risks”.

Does social media have benefits for young people?

Hallan says the proposed bans don’t recognise the nuanced effects of social media.
She says that, while there are some “challenging” aspects to social media, many experiences are being left out of mainstream political discussions.
“We know that young people can use it as a way of expressing creativity, as a way of being able to either learn new skills on something like YouTube or being able to learn about issues that are affecting them in the world,” Hallan said.
Hallan also says that young people commonly use social media as the starting point for seeking mental health support.

For many young members of marginalised communities, social media can be a necessary tool for forming connections and finding support.

Adrian Murdoch, the general manager at Minus18, an advocacy organisation for LGBTIQ+ youth, says social media is an important way for young people from the community to connect.
This is because social media can provide “pseudo-anonymity for those who aren’t out or in unsupportive environments” or “an accessible way to meet others, for those living in regional and rural communities”, Murdoch says.
One supports Murdoch’s argument, finding that social media may support the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ youth through peer connection, identity management and social support.

However, Murdoch notes that being online can present risks of cyberbullying and says safe platforms for LGBTIQ+ teens need to be provided.

Will an age minimum shut teens out of important conversations?

Leo Puglisi, founder of online news channel 6 News Australia, started producing journalism on YouTube at 11 years old with his parents’ consent and supervision.
Puglisi has around a dozen reporters on the 6 News team and says the proposed age restriction would mean they would lose three of those reporters from their social media platforms.
“Our national affairs editor, who actually interviewed Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison back when he was much younger and our elections reporter, they would all be taken off social media,” he said.

Puglisi is concerned that social media bans could cut some teenagers off from political news and information.

“I think we want young people to be more politically engaged and we want them to better understand it … Really, we want these young people to be able to engage with the news on platforms that are better tailored to them, or really, just the ones that they will engage with.”
While Jean Hinchliffe acknowledges the dangers of finding information online, she doesn’t believe that teens are uniquely vulnerable to disinformation. She is concerned that, by cutting off under-16s from social media, many will lose a sense of social or political empowerment.
“I do think it’s absolutely denying young people access to where politics happens and where public discourse happens … and I do think that’s concerning because young people, especially in terms of the issues of the climate crisis, their voices need to be platformed and need to be heard.

“And to deny that, I think is a really negative thing.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *