French MPs back social media age restrictions for teenagers

The bill is aimed at protecting children from harmful online content not intended for their age group

It is hoped the bill will provide safer online spaces for teenage users
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French MPs have backed a bill to reinforce a minimum ‘digital age’ of 15 for new accounts on prominent social media platforms.

Those under this age will require parental confirmation to access apps such as TikTok and Snapchat.

The bill also says parents cannot give permission for children under 13 to create accounts, except on certain ‘accepted platforms’.

There are no details on how this will be implemented or enforced, although companies that fail to comply with regulations may face a fine of up to 1% of global turnover.

The bill comes alongside a number of recent initiatives aimed at promoting ‘digital wellbeing’ in France, particularly for children.

High numbers of children on social media apps

The bill was passed with near unanimous support (82 votes to two) on its first reading on Thursday (March 2) morning, after being brought forward by MP Laurent Marcangeli, and will now go to the Senate.

It is aimed at tackling the high numbers of young children on popular social media apps, where they can encounter sensitive material not meant for their age group.

More than half of children aged between 10 and 14 are on social media apps, according to regulatory body CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés), and the average age a child signs up for a social media app is now eight and a half.

The debate also saw MPs agree on a list of online risks the bill is designed to help protect children from, which includes pornography, cyber-bullying, unattainable beauty standards, and ‘addictive ways of attracting attention’.

The idea of digital age restrictions is not new – a law was passed in France in 2018 to apply European legislation on the topic. That required parental consent to process children’s personal data. The new bill is aimed at restricting online usage.

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Implementation difficulties?

The good intentions of the bill may be marred by difficulties in applying the restrictions.

A tightrope between enforcing the proposed restrictions and keeping in line with protection of personal data may pose numerous challenges for social media companies.

Popular photo-sharing app Instagram is trialling a system using facial recognition to verify the age of new users, but this requires permission for the app to access the user’s phone, and may fall foul of data protection regulations.

A raft of new digital legislation

On Monday (March 6), MPs will debate another bill put forward relating to the over-exposure of young people to screens, updating France’s Public Health code to have a chapter on the topic, as well as the recommendation to discuss the topic in baby books.

March will also see debate of a bill relating to posting images of children on social media.

On average 1,300 photos are posted online of each individual child before the age of 13 (either from themselves, friends or family), according to MP Bruno Studer.

France will also be the first country to make parental controls the default setting for mobile phones sold in shops, with the change coming sometime in 2023.

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