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Should the EU Ban Teens from Social Media?

three girls chatting with their smartphones

The latest law proposed by European politicians in an amendment to the European Data Protection Regulation could kick millions of European teenagers off from using social media. This proposed amendment by the European lawmakers would set to increase the current legal social media age limit from 13 to 16 years old.

The draft law states: “The processing of personal data of a child below the age of 16 years shall only be lawful if and to the extent that such consent is given or authorised by the holder of parental responsibility over the child.”

age of social media users

Source: Woman Online Magazine

While teens between 13 to 16 years old fall in the second largest group of social media users, this proposal would effectively prevent tech companies from offering their services to young people. The move has provoked outcry from social media companies and from child safety experts who argue that it might actually put teenagers at risk. With the amendment, it would be illegal for any company, including Google, Snapchat, Facebook and even Whatsapp, to process a teenager’s data without the consent of a legal guardian.


Quick intro to European Data Protection Regulation

A proposal for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was released on 25 January 2012 by the European Commission in replacement of the previous 1995 Data Protection Directive, as the previous framework was said to be outdated due to globalization and rapid technological change.

The previous Data Protection Directive is a European Union Directive, which was created to regulate the progression of personal data within the European Union. Officially known as the Directive 95/46/EC the legislation is part of the EU privacy and human rights law.

Hence, the purpose of the new European Data Protection Regulation is to harmonise the current data protection laws in place across the EU member states. As it is a ‘regulation’ instead of a ‘directive’, this would mean it is directly applicable to all EU member states without a need for national implementing legislation.


Banning teens below 16 – Pros


Source: Frankwatching

While social networks such as Facebook are ubiquitous with almost every teen and adult alike, there are however ‘dark sides’ to life on social media.  Social media can open the risk of negative exposure. Perhaps the few issues this amendment would like to address are the numerous cases of online bullying, hacking, and sexting among the under-aged. Social networking can be considered a distraction for students, while social media often seems to give people the ‘license’ to be hurtful online, leading to cyberbullying. Online bullying and harassment by peers is an extension of bullying already taking place in the victim’s school. Most kids in fact have faced some form of cyberbullying, according to a survey by i-Safe Inc., an independent e-safety firm, which discovered 58% of children reported that someone has said something mean or hurtful to them online, and one in four have had it happen more than once.

Online predators may be more common than what we believe. Innocent and gullible teens would often be the target of harassment or online stalking by adult predators.


Source: Romston

The problem of online predators creating false social media accounts to form fake identities to deceive others (termed “catfish”) has become so common that even MTV has a TV show named as such, which aims to uncover the complexities of digital world relationships and tackle online “catfishes”.

Perhaps more prevalently amongst female teens is the issue of deteriorating self-esteem due to pressures of conformity to what’s deemed as ‘popular’. In fact, social media tends to create skewed self-images of individuals who wish to paint a picture of only the glamourous side of their lives. A research by New Flinders University found that the more time teenage girls spend on social media, caught in a world of competition for likes on Facebook, posting weight-loss progress selfies on Instagram, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with their bodies and have low self-esteem. Even though 80% of the girls surveyed were of normal weight, almost half of them (46%) reported being dissatisfied with their body size.


Banning teens below 16 – Cons

With that said, most would argue that social media has the power to bring more good for teens, and thus vehemently oppose the ban on social media for teens below 16. Indeed, social media can be a major source of information, news, education and public discussion for growing teens.

A coalition of leading European Internet safety organizations and experts expressed in an open letter on Medium to European policymakers that changing the age limit “would deprive young people of educational and social opportunities in a number of ways, yet would provide no more (and likely even less) protection”. Social media can potentially be lifelines for teens 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. In some cases, social media could help with suicide prevention and mental health communities. For instance, when a teenage boy posted on his Facebook page that he was thinking of jumping off the George Washington Bridge, Port Authority officers managed to connect with him on social media and encouraged him to get help.

Socialising online for teens can be beneficial for social skills whereby shy or socially-awkward teens build a comfortable way to communicate and connect. Teens will not only be able to learn key values through observing good role models in the media, but also build political and social awareness by watching news, current affairs and documentaries, or reading about issues online.


Source: Miriam Posner

So what do you think of the new amendment to the European Data Protection Regulation? Do you believe the ‘digital age of consent’ should be raised? Lowered? Maintained? And are you a social media addict yourself?



[1] ZDNet

[2] BBC

[3] Metro


[5] DNAinfo

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