Life Style

Should we ban social networks for teens?

Would banning social networks for the youngest be as ambitious as wanting to empty the sea with a teaspoon? The excess is more or less the same, as these new media have played such an important part in the lives of the youngest. A recent survey carried out by the Génération Numérique association established that 63% of those under 13 have an account on at least one social network (1).

→ READ. Faced with the risk of harassment of children born in 2010, the call for a start

However, the idea if not to prohibit, at least to regulate the access of the youngest to these networks resurfaces, with each jolt of the news, when an outbreak of violence finds its origin on the Internet. The latest? The “anti2010” phenomenon. At the start of the school year, some 6e received, in mid-September, bullying and name-calling on the absurd grounds that they were born that year. The phenomenon, which has its origin in the online video game Fortnite, has taken on a sufficiently worrying scale for the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to launch a counter-offensive on social networks, under the word- sharp “welcome to 2010”.

Calls from all walks of life

On this occasion, some voices were raised to ask to go further and purely and simply ban social networks to the youngest. They come from all walks of life, and sometimes the most unexpected. “As much as the state must let adult citizens live their lives, it has all its role to play to socially and intellectually emancipate minors, including through coercion.. This is why, I who do not like prohibitions, I plead without hesitation for the closure of social networks to under 16s. The sale of alcohol to minors is indeed prohibited ”, thus explained the libertarian philosopher Gaspard Koenig, in an article published The echoes.

Thomas Rohmer, president of the Observatory for parenting & digital education (Open), an association supporting digital parenting, asks for “An emergency interministerial meeting” to enforce… existing legislation. Because the access of the youngest to social networks is in reality already prohibited by the law on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) European, adopted on 20 June 2018.

Since then, the “numerical majority” has been asked at 15 years old. This means that children under 13 are not allowed on social networks and that between 13 and 15, they must obtain the consent of their parents before registering. Problem, two and a half years after the adoption of this law, “It is not respected”, regrets Thomas Rohmer. And the platforms haven’t implemented the age verification tools.

“A ban would be counterproductive”

Why such a delay? First of all, few child protection associations mobilized to remind the public authorities of their commitments. According to a widely held idea, it would be pointless to prohibit, it would be better to educate in digital uses.

“A ban would be counterproductive”, advances Axelle Desaint, director of the Internet without fear program. Any technical tool can be bypassed, she argues, which contributes to a false sense of security. “Only the support of parents is effective. They should not rely on technology, but educate their child in digital life, as in real life. “

Others cite technical obstacles. “It is impossible to control the age of an Internet user without asking him for identifying data. But today no one can guarantee that these personal data of minors are not made public and exploited “, explains Cyril Di Palma, for example, founder of the Génération Numérique association.

A third way is possible

Clearly, by wanting to protect minors from social networks for which they are not mature, we would expose others, by putting their personal data online: age, address … with the risk that algorithms will start to profile these young people for submerge them with commercial offers, but also, for example, to direct them to sites with pornographic content.

Moreover, only China has taken this step, “In a logic of control of its population”, also illustrates Axelle Desaint. In the name of the fight against digital addiction, Beijing decided in August that under-18s could only play online for three hours a week, in a time slot between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. A month later, the Chinese version of social media giant Tik Tok, which has 600 million users, announced that under 14s could only log on for forty minutes a day.

Should we therefore conclude that democratic countries are doomed to a form of powerlessness, and to allow practices that they condemn to flourish? The anthropologist of digital uses Pascal Plantard refutes such a Manichean vision. According to him, too often “The Web is designed in black and white, all or nothing”. There is a third way, which is yet to be invented with the public authorities, between the current passivity which crushes the weakest and Chinese authoritarianism.

Digital activist communities

The technical obstacle is a smokescreen, he says first of all. “All over the world, laboratories are working on developing reliable identification systems, starting with France, such as at Inria in Rennes, or in Saclay. The problem is that these researchers weigh little against the libertarian discourse that reigns supreme on the Internet. ” An observation shared by Olivier Blazy, professor of computer science at the École Polytechnique, in an article published on October 8 in Polethis, the Paris-Saclay ethics review.

→ READ. When self-esteem gets trapped in social networks

Pascal Plantard also recalls that the libertarian culture of the Web is special. “It did not come from the post-68 anarchist left, but from that of Silicon Valley and the Californian model, which can be summed up in this postulate: my freedom before that of others. Basically, the idea is that freedom must pay. From there, we forget certain main principles which are those which make it possible to protect the weakest ”, he explains, calling for political awareness.

This emerges slowly, says the researcher. Communities of digital activists rooted in Europe are organizing to demand regulation. “We see groups emerging almost everywhere like the Pirate Parties, the Quadrature du Net, in France, or communities organized around free software and Wikipedia”, Pascal Plantard notes. These disparate movements all have one point in common: asking for a concrete remobilization of the State so as not to leave families alone with the sometimes overwhelming burden of digital surveillance.


A host of social networks

Born in 2004 with Facebook, the broad term “social network” brings together various platforms, which have in common to put Internet users in touch with each other and allow them to dialogue. Among the most popular: Messenger, Tik Tok, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook…

Versions for children exist, without advertising, with adapted content and some parental control. But the “under 13” version of the Instagram photo exchange platform has just been released. “Pause” by Facebook, days after posting a series of articles revealing that the company was, based on its own research, well aware of Instagram’s potential impact on adolescent mental health.


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