Presence of under age kids on social media is worrying as these platforms often do not classify content on the basis of what is appropriate for an age. Photo: Reuters
Presence of under age kids on social media is worrying as these platforms often do not classify content on the basis of what is appropriate for an age. Photo: Reuters

Why Instagram and social media needs stronger measures for age verification

  • Several studies have showed that children on social media platforms are more vulnerable to online predators than the grown-ups
  • A UK survey found 18% of children under the age of 11 are registered on various social media accounts despite the existence of minimum age limits

Instagram will now ask users for their age when creating an account to keep children under 13 years of age out of their platform, the Facebook owned company announced in a blog post, published December 4.

Most social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, in their terms of use, require users to be at least 13 years old to use their services. TikTok has this interesting provision where under 13 years old can be allowed if they have the consent of a parent or legal guardian. However, it doesn’t specify how exactly it can be done.

Several studies have showed that children on social media platforms are more vulnerable to online predators than the grown-ups. While no specific reports are available on how many under age users in India are on social media, an Ofcom annual survey in UK, published in February, found 18% of children under the age of 11 are registered on various social media accounts despite the existence of minimum age limits on them. This shows how easily children are fooling these platforms.

Asking for age at the time of creating an account might seem reassuring to some, but in practice, it won’t be able to prevent children under 13 from creating an account. Providing false age information on social media is very common among children. Most social media platform do not have a secondary mechanism in place to verify whether the age related information is true or not and these policies are in place to only save their neck.

Cyberlaw expert Pavan Duggal, feels this is nothing but a lip service to this entire issue of protecting children, primarily because children are known to deceive these well stipulated limits, adding, “I think these platforms need to do more as there are a lot of gaps here. Even when I look at their terms and conditions, there is no specific protection for children."

Fasial Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst, techARC points out, social media platforms do this to safeguard themselves legally and if users enter false information the onus will lie with them if somehow legalities get involved.

Using some sort of physical form of verification such as some form of school ID or government ID can help. Duggal agrees, there must be some kind of physical world verification element in this exercise. A government ID is a good strategy but the chances of using fake IDs cannot be ruled out. Kawoosa feels linking social media accounts with something like an ID is a bit extreme and could get into troubles of right to privacy.

“The best solution is to leverage some form of technology. Right now we all have a front camera and it could be used by such apps to ascertain the age group if not the exact age. At least the app could make it out if the signing user is a kid or an adult," Kawossa adds.

In response to Mint's query on how Instagram is dealing with the menace of children providing false age information, Tara Bedi, Public Policy and Community Outreach Manager at Instagram India said, "Today's announcement is another step in the direction to keep young people safer and enable more age-appropriate experiences overall. We understand not everyone will share their actual age. How best to collect and verify the age of users is something that the whole industry is exploring. We are committed to continuing to work with industry and governments to find the best solutions."

Bedi further notes that Instagram on its part recently changed its policies to make content around diet supplements not available to minors, have also removed face filters promoting cosmetic surgery from Instagram and are testing making like counts private to reduce social pressure and comparison. A new feature, Restrict, was also added to curb bullying based on feedback from young people.

Presence of under age kids on social media is worrying as these platforms often do not classify content on the basis of what is appropriate for an age, unlike some of the video streaming platform like YouTube and Netlfix. A 12-year-old has as much access as an adult to explicit photos and videos shared on some of these platforms. In April, TikTok was temporarily banned from Play Store and App Store by Madras High Court for containing explicit content and encouraging pornography. While the ban was lifted, the platform continues to be surrounded in controversy. An August report by cybersecurity company Tenable revealed that platform like TikTok are being used by scammers to encourage teens to specific Snapchat accounts and then get them to sign up to adult websites.

While there is no denying that social media platform need to do more to fill the gaps in the age verification process, parents should also keep a close eye on their child’s online and social media activities.

Close