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Age Restrictions on Social Media Services

WhatsApp have just announced a new age limit of 16 for users based in Europe. With the upcoming changes to Data Protection rules in the EU, this blog looks at what age restrictions are in place across the most popular social media services, why they exist and what our advice is for parents and young people.

Which social media services are age restricted?

WhatsApp have just announced a change to their terms and conditions for users based in Europe. Users will now need to be 16 to use WhatsApp.

Nearly all other social media services require users to be at least 13 years of age to access and use their services. This includes Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Musical.ly and Skype.

Whilst there is no age restriction for watching videos on YouTube, users need to be 13 or older to have their own YouTube account (enabling them to subscribe to other channels, like videos, post comments, share their own content and flag inappropriate content).

Why do these restrictions exist?

The reason most social media services use an age limit of 13 or over is in part because of a law in the USA. The COPPA law or Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act states that any organisations or people operating online services (including social media services) are not allowed to collect the personal information of anyone under the age of 13 without parental permission.

To avoid the necessity of obtaining parental permission for any user under the age of 13, most services have instead chosen to place an age restriction of 13 to their services. They write this rule into their Terms and Conditions – which users must agree to when they initially sign up and some services may ask users to declare their age during sign up.

WhatsApp’s new age limit has been chosen in response to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect from the 25th May 2018 and will only apply in the European region, and not elsewhere (e.g. the USA).

Users, and the parents of users, should expect to see more communications from companies and others over the coming weeks as they work to ensure that they are complying with the new General Data Protection Regulation.

What do we advise?

Whilst COPPA and GDPR exist to protect the personal information of children, there are also other elements of social media use which may not be appropriate for young users. Our Hot Topic for parents and carers provides more detail and guidance on these risks.

Our advice with regards to age restrictions is that it’s always better to wait until the required age to join any social media service. These rules around age relate to privacy, but also are relevant to safety. Some services offer additional protection for users who are registered as under 18, and by supplying a fake age young people can potentially lose some of this protection. Young people also risk being exposed to content which is intended for older users when they use sites that are not designed for people their age.

Additionally, if a service finds out a user is underage then they may delete the user’s account and any content which has been shared.

We know that social media services are popular with young people of all ages. Parents have an important role in helping prepare their children to go online before they start to use social media platforms. Together you can look at the key things they need to know about staying safe online, critical thinking, and the safety settings that are available to them.

When looking at creating a profile online with your child, have a discussion as a family and make this decision together – talk about why they want the account and ensure that any family members using social media know what tools are available to help them stay safe. You may want to use our family agreement to support with this.

 

The information on age restrictions in this blog was correct at the time of publishing.