Social media has become a cornerstone of communication, entertainment, and information sharing. While social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat offer vast opportunities for creativity and connection, they also face significant challenges when it comes to providing a platform for young users. With the growing demand for regulations requiring age verification and parental consent, social media platforms have to implement secure methods to ensure they comply with child protection laws. Let’s explore why parental consent is considered crucial, the challenges it presents, and how it can be effectively implemented.

The Importance of Parental Consent

Legal Requirements: In many jurisdictions, there are legal requirements for parental consent for children under a certain age to use social media platforms. For example, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the United States mandates that websites obtain verifiable parental or legal guardian consent before collecting personal information from children under 13.

Protection of Privacy: Children and teenagers often lack a full understanding of the long-term implications of sharing personal information on their social media accounts. Parental consent ensures that guardians are aware of what information is being shared and can guide their children in making safer choices.

Mental Health and Wellbeing: Many concerned parties pushing for stricter laws regulating social media companies cite that the impact of social media on young people’s mental health cannot be understated. Exposure to cyberbullying, unrealistic body images, and addictive behaviours can have detrimental effects. Lawmakers believe that these online risks can be mitigated by parental involvement. 

The Problem with COPPA

Issues with COPPA arise when taking into account the age verification measures or lack thereof on social media sites. Up to this point, many services were only required to provide simple age verification steps, which left the process up to the honesty of their users. As many children choose to lie upon social media account creation, however, many lawmakers consider this to no longer be enough. 

In 2023, a group of 30 states filed lawsuits alleging that more than 1 million kids under the age of 13 were using Meta Platforms Inc.’s apps, like Facebook and Instagram. Lawmakers and parents are concerned about how easy it is for kids to gain access to these sites. While adults can be subject to many forms of accurate age and identity verification, children often do not possess government issued identification documents such as passports or ID cards for the verification process. 

Due to this, Utah, Georgia and Arkansas have passed laws that require parental consent in order for minors to sign up for any social media platform. And in 2023 alone, state lawmakers tried to pass more than 144 bills related to online age limits. Other states are joining the movement for child safety with New Jersey urging congress to enact the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). 

Challenges in Ensuring Parental Consent

Verification Processes: Verifying parental consent can be complex. Some platforms use methods like credit card verification or government ID checks, which can be cumbersome and raise privacy concerns of their own.

Evolving Technology: As technology evolves, so do the ways young people access social media accounts. New platforms and features continuously emerge, making it challenging for parents to keep up and maintain control over their children’s online activities.

Peer Pressure and Secrecy: Children and teenagers may feel pressured by their peers to join social media platforms, sometimes circumventing parental controls by creating fake profiles or using alternate accounts.

Global Disparities: Different countries have varying regulations and cultural attitudes towards social media usage, making it difficult to establish a one-size-fits-all approach to parental consent and age verification requirements.

It is worth noting, however, that although some age verification methods pose challenges, many other sites such as online gaming platforms require age verification and have implemented these solutions without much trouble. 

Age Estimation: the Clear Solution

Taking the above challenges into account, one method of age verification stands out as the clear best choice. 

Age estimation models primarily use facial features to determine a person’s age and categorise them into an age range. Over time, facial appearance changes due to biological factors such as alterations in bone structure, skin texture, dental records, and the development of wrinkles. Additionally, external factors like lifestyle, environment, and stress influence the ageing process and, consequently, the age estimation. 

This allows for a secure and private age verification method that does not need to collect private data or require governmental identity documents young users may not have access to. Because of this, age estimation is considered the most private age verification method that still provides reliable and accurate results. On top of this, it is in compliance with most global age verification and data privacy regulations. 

Age estimation would allow social media companies to accurately estimate the age of their users before granting access upon account registration. Based on the results of the estimation, social media companies can then request and obtain parental consent to ensure they stay compliant with all regulations, regardless of where they operate. 

Last Thoughts

Parental consent on social media is a critical component in protecting children. While it presents several challenges, effective management through leveraging technology can create a safer online environment for young users. As social media continues to evolve, so too do the laws that safeguard children’s wellbeing. By implementing age estimation processes, social media companies can stay compliant with child protection laws without sacrificing privacy.

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    FAQ

    In many countries, children under 13 are banned from creating accounts on social media platforms such as Tiktok, Instagram, Snapchat and others due to privacy and children protection laws.
    Parents can manage parental consent requirements by ensuring open communication with their children, setting boundaries on social media usage and utilising parental control technology.