French plan to ban phones and social media for kids: How can it work?

President Macron says he wants to combat ‘social media addiction’ and ‘online hate’

"It's difficult to legislate in the private sphere. You can’t go into people’s homes and forbid phones,” said an addiction specialist

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to ban children aged under 11 from using mobile phones, and those under 15 from using social media - but is this possible and, if so, how?

Mr Macron made the pledge as part of his new campaign ahead of the surprise legislative elections, which he called on June 9, after the far-right party le Rassemblement National won the French vote in the European elections.

The legislative polls will open on June 30 and July 7.

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Mr Macron has said his proposals would help to combat “social network addiction”.

"The government will have to take clear decisions to protect our children," he said, at a press conference on June 12. 

“Firstly, by not allowing the use of phones before the age of 11 and above all [not allowing] access to social networks before the age of 15. There has to be an age for a digital majority, which protects [children].” 

Expert recommendations

Mr Macron appears to have based his pledge on the opinions of a commission of experts on the subject. 

In a report submitted to the Elysée Palace in April, the commission recommended banning the use of screens and mobile phones for the very young, and drastically limiting access to teenagers. 

The experts proposed a number of “operational measures”, such as requiring buyers of mobile phones and data packages to systematically declare the user's date of birth at the point of purchase.

It also said that manufacturers should be encouraged to label their devices with labels stating ‘Not suitable for under-13s’, and to create basic phones adapted to younger people. 

Operators should also offer ‘young people's packages’, with limited or no Internet access, they added.

‘Difficult to legislate in the private sphere’

The government can, in theory, put these restrictions in place - but they may be difficult to enforce.

Ultimately, it is up to parents/guardians if they wish to buy a phone for their children, and/or limit their use. Parents could easily give their own birth date when buying a phone or contract, even if their child will be the main user.

Similarly, the ‘Not suitable for under-13s’ warning would be advisory only, not legally enforceable (although the government has said that there would be “strong political support” for companies that work hard to limit access to under-13s).

"It's difficult to legislate in the private sphere,” said addiction psychiatrist Amine Benyamina, co-chairman of the commission specially appointed by the president to look into the matter. “You can’t go into people’s homes and forbid phones.”

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Social media limitation to ‘combat online hate’

Mr Macron said that his goal in banning access to social networks to children under 15 was “aimed at establishing a digital majority and combating online hate”.

This pledge would support existing laws that aim to do this, including a law that came into force in July 2023, which states that social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and TikTok must refuse registration to under-15s, unless parents give their explicit consent. 

However, enforcing this law remains difficult, as requiring ID to prove age “leads to the collection of personal data and presents risks for privacy”, the computer freedom commission la Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL) has warned. 

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Similarly, under the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules, the permitted use of tools such as facial recognition to ensure identity for social media platforms is very limited.