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185,000* Irish teenagers could be banned from using social media without parental consent.

Blog Posts Decem­ber 15th2015

Press Release

December 15th 2015

185,000* Irish teenagers could be banned from using social media without parental consent.

#13to16Privacy

European policymakers are considering a draft of the European Data Protection Regulation that would change the age of ‘digital consent’ from 13 to 16 years of age. The drafting of the regulation has been in progress since 2012 and the text proposing a shift in the age from 13 to 16 years was added last week without any consultation, just days before it is due to be finalised.

This change means that young people under the age of 16 will need to ask their parent or guardian's permission to sign up to most information society services. These include social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram for example. Up to 185,000* Irish teenagers currently aged between 13, 14 and 15 could be affected by the move.

SpunOut.ie, Ireland’s youth information website opposes this change and is working with a broad coalition of European online safety organisations to lobby the MEPs negotiating the new regulation.

Speaking about the proposed amendment, SpunOut.ie Executive Director Ian Power said; “If enforced, the requirement for parental consent from age 13 to 16 would deprive young people of educational and social opportunities online. The internet is overwhelmingly a platform for good and Irish young people are creating rich and valuable content and contributing to a positive online community. Of course there are challenges for young people online, but this will not address those. The requirement to obtain parental consent will be difficult to enforce and it makes no sense to waste time trying to when we could be doing more meaningful things to protect young people online and the privacy of our data.”

The consequences of the proposed change are very significant for European society. Here are some of the areas that we think need to be discussed further before any such change should be considered;

  • Child development — although navigating the online world as an adolescent or parent is certainly not without challenges, well-established research on child development shows that, as children reach adolescence, they are curious about the world around them and are learning how to express themselves and interact safely and confidently with friends online. Adolescents need guidance from their parents and other trusted adults, and online services should work to provide tools that help adolescents make the right choices about their safety and privacy. Given the right tools and guidance, adolescents can develop critical skills of self-expression and relationship management in the online environment. Recent surveys have indicated that teenagers are by and large very knowledgeable about how to control the information they share online — more so than many adults.
     
  • Learning to use information society platforms responsibly in school — research also shows that schools play an important role in guiding children and teens in the safe and responsible use of information society platforms such as social media (http://www.eun.org/teaching/smile). As society, including government institutions, is increasingly using social media to disseminate important information, such platforms play an integral role in helping young people develop the literacy skills they need to play an active role in the world of today and tomorrow. The added layer of bureaucracy required to procure parental permission before any teacher could use information society tools in class for children under the age of 16 would undermine any possibility of schools fulfilling this role. At the same time, it would stop the valuable flow of guidance that young people are able to take home to inform their parents and siblings.
     
  • Building on years of good practice around offering online services to children aged 13 and above — given the prevalence of the Internet in modern society, adolescents aged 13 and above have long used online services to access important information about current events, conduct research for their schoolwork, and express themselves on issues of social, political and cultural importance without being required to seek their parents’ consent every time they use a new app or website. These are fundamental rights, as expressed in articles 12, 13 and 14 of the UNCRC and the recent Council of Europe publication (http://www.coe.int/en/web/internet-users-rights/children-and-young-people), which both underlines the importance of children having the right to have their voice heard in a decision that impacts on their future such as age requirements for parental consent.
  • Providing critical online support services for children aged 13 and above — sadly, we know that some parents do not always act in their child’s best interests. The Internet can represent a lifeline for children to get the help they need when they are suffering from abuse, living with relatives who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or seeking confidential LGBT support services, to name a few. Although the new proposed text makes an exception for direct counselling services, we know that peer support through media platforms is very often more important for young people under physical or mental duress and can be the tipping point for encouraging them to seek professional help.

  • This higher age threshold may incentivise children between the ages of 13 and 15 to lie about their age — children aged 13 and above have long accessed online services; an artificial and sudden change to this threshold will likely result in many children between the ages of 13 and 15 lying about their ages in order to continue accessing online services — rather than asking their parents to consent. This development would make it far more difficult for online services to offer children age-appropriate guidance and tools to ensure a safe and privacy-protective experience online.

Those opposed to the proposed ‘digital age of consent’ can sign the petition calling for it to be dropped from the regulation text at change.org

*****Ends******

For more information please contact;

SpunOut.ie's Communications Officer, Claire O'Dowd on claire@spunout.ie or ph: 01 6753554
 

*CSO data from 2011 census; 9, 10 and 11 year olds, now teenagers under 16. = 184,863

Editor notes: SpunOut.ie is Ireland’s youth information website with 89,000 monthly readers (Source: Google Analytics - November 2015). SpunOut.ie launched Ireland’s Online Safety Hub on Internet Safety Day in February 2015. SpunOut.ie is an official safety partner of both Facebook and Twitter.