WA online safety expert Paul Litherland backs social media ban for kids

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Bethany HiattThe West Australian
Online safety expert Paul Litherland said there was merit in a bid to impose a social media ban on kids under 14.
Camera IconOnline safety expert Paul Litherland said there was merit in a bid to impose a social media ban on kids under 14. Credit: Matt Jelonek/The West Australian

A cyber safety expert has called for WA to consider a proposal by one Australian State to ban children from social media.

Paul Litherland, a former WA police officer who now gives talks to school students about staying safe online, said there was merit in South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas’ push to impose a social media ban on children under 14.

But he warned lawmakers should be wary of removing all responsibility from social media giants and pushing it back on to parents or police.

Earlier this month, Mr Malinauskas appointed former High Court chief justice Robert French to examine how a kids’ social media ban could be put in place.

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Camera IconSouth Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas has appointed former High Court chief justice Robert French to examine how to impose a social media ban on children. Credit: News Corp Australia

Under the proposal, parents would also have to give consent for children aged 14 and 15 to access social media content.

Mr Litherland said around 72 per cent of Year 5 and 6 students that he spoke to were on social networking sites, even though under-13s were not allowed to sign up.

“If legislation is written correctly and is considerate of circumstances, then I do think it can work,” he said.

“The only concern I have is that if we’re going to make it illegal for kids to create accounts, that’s taking away the responsibility of the networks to protect users — it’s handballing that to parents and legislators.

“It can’t just push the onus to enforce what I think big tech should be doing themselves.

“What are the networks doing to stop an 11-year-old joining their systems? I just don’t think they’re doing enough — which is sadly why we need to look at legislation, because they’re not acting.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he applauded efforts to explore online age restrictions.

“Parents are worried sick about what their kids have access to online, it is a major social issue in this country,” he said.

“Premier Malinauskas — I applaud his leadership on this issue as well. But this is a national issue.”

Mr Albanese said parents had told him they were concerned about their children having access to inappropriate material online and the mental health impacts of social media.

However, any age requirement initiatives must be proven to work.

“We want to make sure that any measures that are put in place are effective, because one of the concerns which is there is that age protocols may be circumvented,” he said.

“The impact of social media — I think — is the number one topic on the sideline of football, netball and school sport on any weekend in any part of Australia.

“It’s time that we take strong action, but we want to make sure that strong action is effective.”

The Federal Government last week revealed it would commit $6.5 million in the Budget to trial “age assurance technologies” by testing their effectiveness in preventing children from accessing inappropriate and harmful online content.

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