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A New Future? The UK Ban on Social Media For Young People

Apr 25, 2024

Social Media Marketing News

A New Future? The UK Ban on Social Media For Young People

The internet might soon look a whole lot different for young people in the United Kingdom. 

The start of April brought with it a slew of reports online reporting that the infamous UK ban on social media for users under the age of sixteen is becoming more of a reality. Supposedly, they are also looking to restrict these consumers from purchasing smartphones. 

Are the rumours true? And if so, what does this mean for brands who target young consumers online? 

Read on to find out more. 

THE UK BAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR

The UK government is supposedly looking to unveil plans that ban children younger than sixteen from using social media platforms in the upcoming weeks. According to reports, Downing Street will soon be revealing proposals for harsher age restrictions on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. 

Smartphones are being targeted as well. At present, children under the age of eighteen are not allowed to take out phone contracts, but they are able to purchase pay-as-you-go phones without parental consent. Recent reports have found that the government is seeking to lower this age restriction to sixteen as part of the UK ban on social media.

@yahoouk

Tory MP Miriam Cates asks Prime Minister Rishi Sunak whether under 16s should be banned from social media or from owning smartphones, following an increase in online bullying and abuse. #pmqs #rishisunak #uknews #ukpolitics #tory #conservative #conservatives #socialmedia #socialmediaban #tiktok #snapchat #miriamcates #mentalhealth

♬ original sound – Yahoo UK

These new plans are part of a consultation seeking to protect children in the UK from harmful content online. The consultation is aimed at parents, and will seek their input on what they believe to be the appropriate age for children to access social media. The current proposed range is thirteen to sixteen years old. 

The consultation will also ask parents if they believe that safeguards should automatically be built into the phones of under sixteen year olds, so that parents are able to better monitor their children’s internet usage. 

This would, essentially, create a divide between child phones and adult phones. Up until sixteen, children would have phones with restrictions aimed at internet safety built in. After sixteen, they could upgrade to an adult phone with more freedom. 

Why now? 

The question of how to protect children on the internet has long been a hot debate, so why is a UK ban on social media just now being considered?

Recent studies by several data usage companies and child safety charities have shown that parents want more protection for their kids online. A survey by charity Parentkind found that 58% of parents of school aged children think kids under sixteen should not be allowed smartphones. In support of this, a survey by More in Common found that 64% of people believed a UK ban on social media (specifically on smartphones) for kids under sixteen would be a good idea. 

@gbnews

‘I want to see restrictions on social media, so under 16’s cannot use it’ | Conservative MP, Miriam Cates, says that social media should be banned for under 16’s and if that didn’t reduce the harmful effects, then introduce a smartphone ban #socialmedia #youngpeople #kids #britain #uknews #nigelfarage #gbnews

♬ original sound – GB News – GB News

These results reveal that parents are actively concerned about their children’s online safety, and have contributed to the government’s decision to investigate a UK ban on social media.

On top of this, recent incidents involving child safety online have propelled this debate. The tragic murder of sixteen year old Brianna Ghey led to her mother calling for more restrictions to protect UK children. She is currently driving the call for establishing smartphones for children versus smartphones for adults, as previously mentioned. 

Ghey and other supporters of the ban were up in arms recently, when Meta decided to lower the age for Whatsapp to thirteen in Europe. This, in combination with the platform’s decision to introduce end-to-end encryption, have caused many to fear that children on Whatsapp will be increasingly at risk of unsafe encounters. 

Meta, in response, has made it clear that users are able to choose who can add them to new groups, and can block and report any unknown numbers that contact them. 

The Response Thus Far 

So far, the response to these proposed bans has been mixed yet intense, with both sides of the debate being incredibly vocal. 

Those in support of the UK ban on social media believe it is a crucial, substantial step in the right direction. Those against it, however, are not so convinced. 

@bbcnews

Should social media for under 16s be banned due to its impact on mental health? #RishiSunak #MiriamCates #PMQs #SocialMedia #MentalHealth #Smartphones #UKPolitics #Conservatives #BBCNews

♬ original sound – BBC News – BBC News

Many believe that it is not the UK government’s place to parent children. They believe that whilst child safety online should be prioritised, that the government should be focusing on educating parents; arming them with the right tools and knowledge to project their kids online. 

Others claim that it should be on social media platforms themselves to address this issue. They believe that social media platforms need to address the fact that they have made their apps deliberately addictive and targeted at children. 

THE UK BAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BRANDS 

If the UK ban on social media moves ahead, what does this mean for brands that wish to advertise on social media? 

For companies whose target audience is consumers under the age of sixteen, then these new proposed restrictions could be sending off alarm bells. Yet, the government is yet to confirm if the ban is in fact a plan, or merely a stray comment. So far, it seems that the only thing set in stone is that the UK government is seeking out parents’ opinions on how to better cater to their childrens’ safety. 

@boringpeoplepodcast

Ep 18… UK to ban social media from 16yrs old and younger. Do you think this is good or bad?? #socialmedia #uk #banningtiktok #podcast #podcastclips #clips #boringpeoplepodcast

♬ original sound – Boring People Podcast – Boring People Podcast

However, if the proposed ban does turn into reality, it will require brands to shift their marketing back to analogue. It could open up a new era in marketing, where brands are forced to go back to basics and find new ways to target audiences under the age of sixteen. 

Yet, only time will tell if this is an issue to be concerned about. One must not forget that in 2023, reports that the UK government was considering similar bans did flood the internet. These rumours turned out to be nothing more than whispers. 

Our influencer marketing agency and social agency are located worldwide, with our agency network based in the USA, UK, UAE and China.

If you want to find industry insights, visit our influencer marketing and social media blogs.

@sociallypowerful

Author

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Annette Klar

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