Australia wants to force social media sites to verify user's ages

Social media firms will be forced to require parental consent for children’s accounts or face £5million fines under proposed laws in Australia

  • Australia plans to force social media sites to verify the ages of all new users 
  • Children under 16 would then require parental consent to create an account 
  • Law is designed to protect the mental health of younger people, ministers say 
  • Comes after Australia forced Facebook to pay for news hosted on its site 

Social media sites will be forced to verify the ages of all users and obtain parental consent for children under 16 to join, under new laws planned in Australia.

Sites which violate the new law – which ministers say is designed to help protect children’s mental health – would face fines of up to £5million.

It is just the latest crackdown on tech giants by Australia, which earlier this year faced off against Facebook over plans to make the site pay for news its users share.

Facebook refused, pulling all news content off its site for several days before agreeing a compromise that saw the government significantly water down its plans.

Australia is planning to force social media companies to check the ages of its users and require parental consent for anyone under the age of 16 to sign up (file image)

It is just the latest crackdown on big tech launched by Australia, which previously forced Facebook and Google into paying for news content hosted on their sites 

David Coleman, minister in charge of mental health and suicide prevention, said the law would make Australia a world-leader in protecting children from online harm. 

‘In Australia, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a consistent increase in signs of distress and mental ill health among young people,’ he said.

‘While the reasons for this are varied and complex, we know that social media is part of the problem.’

The law also comes as Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, testifies before governments around the English-speaking world about the harms the site causes to its users.

Haugen, who worked at the site’s civic integrity unit, insists Mark Zuckerberg has shown ‘no desire’ to run the company in a way that protects those who use it.

‘I am extremely, extremely worried about the state of our societies. I am extremely concerned about engagement-based ranking, which prioritizes extreme content,’ she said during an appearance in front of British lawmakers this week. 

She decided to speak out after leaking a trove of documents which she says shows staff at the site have been flagging for years that it helps spread hate speech and incite violence but has failed to act decisively in cutting it out.

According to Haugen, failures to stop hate speech in volatile world regions such as Myanmar, Vietnam, India and Pakistan could have led to real-world violence. 

She also disclosed internal messages posted on the day of the Capitol riots in the US on January 6, when staff said they blamed themselves for the violence.  

The new law was proposed as Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, accuses the company of failing to protect its users from harm

Earlier this year, Australia forced Facebook to start paying for news it hosts after a days-long spat that saw it temporarily remove all news content (pictured) 

‘One of the darkest days in the history of democracy and self-governance. History will not judge us kindly,’ said one worker.

Another wrote: ‘We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control’. 

Facebook regional director of public policy Mia Garlick said her platform had been calling for Australia´s privacy laws to evolve with new technology.

‘We have supported the development of international codes around young people´s data, like the U.K. Age Appropriate Design Code,’ Garlick said in a statement, referring to British legislation introduced this year that requires platforms to verify users´ ages if content risks the moral, physical or mental well-being of children.

‘We´re reviewing the draft bill and discussion paper released today, and look forward to working with the Australian government on this further,’ she added.

Australia has been a prominent voice in calling for international regulation of the internet.

It passed laws this year that oblige Google and Facebook to pay for journalism. Australia also defied the tech companies by creating a law that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream violent images.

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