On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok, British accounts are younger than it seems. Half of 8-15 year olds say they are at least 16 years old and 32% of 8-17 year olds say they are of legal age.
One in three British children pretend to be an adult on social media: when declaring their age, many give an age higher than their real age. This is shown by a new study by Ofcom, the telecommunications regulatory authority in the United Kingdom.
The British organization looked at social networks Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter to conduct its study on a sample of 1,039 user accounts aged 8 to 17, spotted The Guardian.
A minimum age of 13 to 16 years old required
According to Ofcom, almost half of children aged 8 to 15 (47%) said they were over 16.
Similarly, one in three people aged 8 to 17 say they are over 18. This practice allows users who are not yet of legal age to access certain platforms to still create an account there.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have a minimum age of 13 to hold an account. A limit raised to 16 years on TikTok. For its part, YouTube requires you to be 13 years old to have your own account, but the Google subsidiary has set up a section entirely geared towards children: YouTube Kids. It allows the youngest, under the control of their parents, to access videos adapted to their age.
Even with these minimum ages, online profiles held by users between the ages of 8 and 12 are therefore important. Thus, 39% of 8-12 year olds have an account whose recorded age is at least 16 years old. For accounts self-declared as adult (18 years old), 23% of holders are actually children between the ages of 8 and 12.
Issues about exposure to certain content
In terms of usage, 87% of the panel consume content on YouTube. They are then 62% to browse on TikTok, 47% on Instagram, 46% on Snapchat, 40% on Facebook and finally 20% on Twitter.
The study shows that the children aged 8 to 12 in the panel – who therefore cannot manage their own account on social networks – do indeed have a personal account. They are 26% on YouTube, 35% on Instagram, 43% on Facebook, 45% on Snapchat and 51% on TikTok. This raises issues about the content to which they may be exposed.
“When a child self-declares a false age to access a social network or an online game, when they get older, their declared age also increases, explains Ofcom to the Guardian. This means that they are more likely to be confronted with age-inappropriate or harmful online content.”
Complaints filed by families of victims
An 8-year-old child creating an account on social networks by declaring that he has the minimum required age of 13 years will thus be considered as an adult as soon as he is actually 13 years old. And even from his 10 years on TikTok which does not allow to create an account before 16 years.
The exposure of young people to inappropriate content has already been at the heart of addiction cases for dramatic purposes. The question of the harmfulness of social networks is clearly raised through complaints filed by the families of victims.
In the United Kingdom, justice has recognized that Instagram and Pinterest had contributed to the suicide of little Molly Russel in 2017 when she was only 14 years old. Since then, her family has set up the Molly Rose Foundation to warn of the risks involved.
“Ofcom’s research shows that by allowing children as young as eight years old to access their platforms, social media providers are failing in their fundamental duty of care,” said a spokesperson for the foundation. Guardian.
“They have proven unable to control the ability of their platforms to connect our children with distressing and harmful content, which has tragic consequences,” he said.