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Online Safety Commissioner should have role in deciding digital age of consent

9th February 2021 - Emer Higgins, TD

The Online Safety Commissioner should have a role in deciding the digital age of consent to protect our young people online, a Fine Gael TD has said.

Emer Higgins, Fine Gael’s Spokesperson on Social Media, was speaking as a range of events to promote online safety and wellbeing take place today on Safer Internet Day.

Deputy Higgins said, “Newly released research by Cyber Safe Kids shows that four in five primary-aged children have profiles on social media and messaging apps that should not be accessible to children under 13.

“This raises the need for us to discuss the digital age of consent and it begs the question, what are social media platforms doing to police their own age-limit policies?  In my view they are simply not doing enough.

“Fine Gael in Government is committed to establishing an Online Safety Commissioner, who should have a role in deciding the digital age of consent and I believe this should be included in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

“We know from the Zeeko Report carried out in 2018 that the usage of smartphones in Irish children increases with age and that tablet use decreases with age. Even before lockdown, over 60% of primary school children used tablets, computers, and games consoles to access the internet; with more than 90% of older students using mainly smartphones.

“When you add lockdowns and home-schooling into the mix, it is no surprise that online activity and social media usage in children is sky-rocketing. While the internet offers great opportunity for children to develop new skills and stay in touch with their friends in a fun way, it does pose digital risks like cyberbullying, sexting and harmful content.

“That is why it is so important that the Government helps parents understand the apps that their children are using. There are so many resources out there for parents, but it can all be quite overwhelming and hard to know where to start.”

Deputy Higgins previously ran a series of public information meetings on Social Media and Online Gaming which parents found very useful.

Deputy Higgins continued, “One of the most valuable insights from it was that parents can have the same rules for social media as for socialising. For example, if your ten year old child asks to go out to play with friends, your rules might include knowing who they are playing with and where they will be. It is no different online, you can ask your child who they are interacting with, which platforms they will be on and you can tell them they can only be online in a common room or somewhere you can see them.

“Social media trends are hard to keep up with but the basics are the same no matter what app your child is on,” Deputy Higgins concluded.

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