Peter Dutton would ban kids under 16 from social media to protect them from ‘industrial scale’ evil

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
Declaring he would impose a ban on young users within his first 100 days of government, Mr Dutton said that as a father and former police officer he felt compelled to protect children from the “industrial scale” evil found online.
Declaring he would impose a ban on young users within his first 100 days of government, Mr Dutton said that as a father and former police officer he felt compelled to protect children from the “industrial scale” evil found online. Credit: The Nightly/Supplied

Australian children would not be able to access social media until they are sixteen under a Coalition government, with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton saying lifting the age to access the addictive platforms was a key priority.

Declaring he would impose a ban on young users within his first 100 days of government, Mr Dutton said that as a father and former police officer, he felt compelled to protect children from the “industrial scale” evil found online.

“We wouldn’t in the real world allow our kids to go into a park, or into a shopping centre just to hang out with any adult that came by,” Mr Dutton said.

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“We should be doing everything we can to support them.”

The pledge comes as global tech giants face increasing scrutiny for profiting off the dissemination of offensive material, ranging from violence to footage of child sex abuse and an increase in predatory messaging to young people.

This includes soaring “sextortion” cases, where scammers posing as teenagers on messaging apps have pushed several young Australians to suicide, according to reports in The Nightly.

The pledge comes as global tech giants face increasing scrutiny for profiting off the dissemination of offensive material, ranging from violence to footage of child sex abuse and an increase in predatory messaging to young people.
The pledge comes as global tech giants face increasing scrutiny for profiting off the dissemination of offensive material, ranging from violence to footage of child sex abuse and an increase in predatory messaging to young people. Credit: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

A gang of these Nigeria-based criminals whose actions had caused a NSW boy to take his own life was recently arrested in a joint operation with the Australian Federal Police.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in sextortion cases, which are up nearly 400 per cent in the last 18 months,” said commander of the NSW Crime Command’s Cybercrime Squad, Detective Superintendent Matthew Craft in April.

Many prominent Australians support raising the social media age to 16 and the premiers of NSW, Queensland and Victoria last month called for a ban on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook for children.

Users aged under 13 are currently banned but the tech giants do not police this and are not legally required to do so. Children with access to smartphones are easily able to pretend to be older by simply clicking a disclaimer saying they’re over 13.

The Nightly recently reported on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s regrets at allowing her children to have iPhones when they were young and her scathing criticism of the current legal settings for tech companies to operate here.

“Across many apps are laughable barriers: do you have parental permission? Check. Are you over 18? Check. The kids just have to tick a box. And then into the internet, they go. They can watch a beheading. Or a murder. They can watch porn. They can watch Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson,” Ms Plibersek said.

“They can watch hundreds and hundreds of hours of beauty tutorials or anorexia tips. They can watch anything and everything — all of the time.”

The Federal Government in the May Budget announced a $6.5m trial of age verification technology ahead of announcing its position on raising the age to access social media and last month unveiled sweeping reforms that would force tech giants to reveal the ages of their active users.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Wednesday said: “The Albanese Government supports age limits for social media. Consulting with development experts, researchers and parents will inform our view on the right age for limits.”

“Changing age limits without knowing which technologies can enforce it won’t achieve the outcomes parents need,” she said in a statement.

“Peter Dutton needs to be upfront and clear about what the details of his policy are and which technology the Coalition will require social media companies to use”.

Mr Dutton said that as a father and former police officer, he felt compelled to protect children from the “industrial scale” evil found online.
Mr Dutton said that as a father and former police officer, he felt compelled to protect children from the “industrial scale” evil found online. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

Mr Dutton said on Wednesday that he understood that young people relied heavily on the internet for their social lives but that some restriction was necessary.

“Nobody’s saying ‘ban the internet’ or any of that sort of nonsense,” he said.

“It’s the case that we need to have just a sensible, moderate approach.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable that particularly for young children … where you’ve got impressionable minds, and particularly when the evidence is so obvious that the self-harm and the pressure that comes on young people through sharing of images.

“That’s the reality of their life now.”

While the Coalition has been broadly supportive of raising the age limit for social media, Wednesday’s announcement that it would be a key priority was a significant escalation in its stance on tech giants.

“I would put it at the top of my list for the first 100 days in government,” Mr Dutton said of the ban.

“Within the first three months we would introduce it, and it reflects the community values and where the view is for the vast majority of Australians at the moment.

“I can’t understand an argument against putting in place sensible measures.”

He said a ban would help parents navigate the difficulties of trying to curtail their young children’s access to social media.

“It just gives parents more power in the equation, and there is a lot of pressure because there are plenty of examples as well as of kids being isolated from their friendship groups,” he said.

“It’s tough for parents because, ‘every kid in the class has got it, so why haven’t I?’, but if you introduce the law and you normalise that as being the accepted norm.”

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