Should children use social networks?

girls on the internet

¿How children use social networksWhat actions can parents take to ensure that their children are in a safer environment when using these digital platforms? How can they combat the dangers and make their experience beneficial and healthy?

Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to have profiles on most social networks

Surely you have read many articles that try to give answers to these questions asked by virtually all parents, guardians and educators in the world. You may have heard experts speak on the subject or even attended conferences and educational talks at your children’s school.

Undoubtedly, acquiring knowledge and training – the best solution to combat the ignorance and dangers that can come with the use of social networks – in this area would help minors to have a more profitable experience on these platforms, but an important detail is being overlooked: being strict and according to current legislation, minors could not have profiles created on social networks.

Another thing is the use made by teenagers of these platforms, something that also deserves to be raised and analyzed in detail to help them improve their online experience. However, according to the Terms of Use of the main social networks, children under the age of 13 cannot have profiles created on them. This is true for platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, as expressly stated in the Community Guidelines that every user who opens an account on them accepts in a -allegedly- conscious way.

But in addition to the rules imposed by each social network, also. it is necessary to pay attention to the legislation in force in each territory.. In Spain, for example, it is not permitted by law for children under 14 years of age to have profiles on social networks and there are dozens of countries in the world that are more restrictive in this regard, where the minimum age is 16 years.

However, it is a commonly accepted practice for children under those ages to have profiles, post content and interact on social networks with other users of the platform. Surely you know the case of many children who, even with the permission of parents, who are unaware of the legal limitation, use these tools.

The social networking companies themselves overlook this reality, making ineffective efforts to prevent minors from creating their profiles by falsifying the age that they enter at the time of registering on the platform. Since no proof of age is requested, most of them rely on other users of the social network to raise the alarm and report the profiles of minors they find, something that no one does because, as we mentioned, children having a presence on social networks is a practice commonly accepted by Internet users.

In addition, it is in the interest of the social networking companies themselves to look the other way. in this regard, since the creation of such profiles for minors also means an increase in their total count of number of active accounts and monthly and daily users, figures that they subsequently present to advertisers to attract them and convince them of the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.

Eliminating all profiles created by minors would mean a significant drop in the number of active users for many platforms, which is why it is controlled “but little”, leaving the responsibility to other users of the social network and the possibility for them to proactively denounce.

To somewhat alleviate this situation, some companies have launched children’s versions of their main digital tools or platforms. For example, YouTube has a children’s version called “YouTube Kids”, where minors consume content adapted for them under the supervision of their parents or guardians. Facebook also launched a children’s version of its instant messaging tool Facebook Messenger, which includes parental controls and specific tools for minors.

In this way, these companies manage to retain underage users and ensure that their use of the applications continues to count towards their bottom line. In addition, the child is retained, who may continue to use the company’s “adult” tools when he or she grows up. However, the challenge for these companies is to provide them with an age-appropriate experience.

Despite the use of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence to monitor the use made by minors and the content shared by minors, the effectiveness is not total and in many cases parental monitoring is still relied upon to ensure that these platforms for minors are safe environments. So much so that some companies have even dismissed the creation of their children’s version.

Such is the case of Instagram, which allocated millions of dollars -and many resources- to the development of Instagram Kids, the version for children under 13 years of age of the platform, and whose launch it had announced with great fanfare. However, the distrust generated among parents and guardians by the possible arrival of the children’s version of the social network, as well as the impossibility of guaranteeing that the experience on it would be totally safe, led Meta to abandon the project and focus on the future development of better content control systems and the creation of a help center for parents to control their children’s use of the platform.

Despite all the above, the reality is that thousands of children around the world use social networks with the approval of their parents, either because they are unaware of the regulations or simply because of social acceptance or the impossibility of denying their presence on these platforms where all their friends are already present. In view of this, education in the use of these platforms and the promotion of bonds of trust and communication between parents and young users of social networks are the main ways to ensure that their digital experience is as safe as possible.

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