Michelle Rowland says social media age verification checks a ‘live issue’ being worked through

The Australian government is actively considering clamping down on ensuring children are not using social media amid mounting pressure to ensure tech companies play their part in protecting young people.

After months of lobbying from the Coalition, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Wednesday said age verification was a “very live issue” being worked on by the Albanese government with the eSafety commissioner.

Although she admitted there was “no silver bullet” to fixing the loophole, Ms Rowland said her department was considering what could be done to ensure a child couldn’t access a site by lying about how old they were.

Social media platforms like Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, as well as X (formerly Twitter), do have age limits of at least 13 years old, but as Ms Rowland conceded, there was a “problem in getting them to enforce it”.

“Age limitations is indeed some of the issues being examined right now as part of the online safety review,” Ms Rowland said.

“No one wants vulnerable people, especially children, seeing certain content that is not age appropriate.”

Ms Rowland admitted there would be difficulties in enforcing such a limitation, while her Coalition counterpart David Coleman doubled down on his calls for the government to “get on with it”.

“People will always try and get around rules and that’s why you have eSafety to go through the process,” Mr Coleman said.

“I think that yes, there’s complexity, but to be frank, the social media companies use that complexity to their advantage to throw up red flags as why nothing should happen.

“And what we have to do is have the intellectual clarity and strength to see through that … What do we care about?”

Mr Coleman said just like Australia enforced a classification system for movies, games and TV shows to protect children from inappropriate content, the same idea should be extended to social media.

“What we’ve got to do is get on with it, back our eSafety commissioner who wants to get on with this, and stop delaying it,” he said.

Ms Rowland said the government was looking at “every method to make sure that we keep, especially children and other vulnerable cohorts, safe”.

And, amid a legal stoush between social media giant X and the Australian eSafety commissioner over graphic videos from the alleged terror stabbing of a Western Sydney bishop still on the platform, she called on the Coalition to show bipartisanship on tackling mis- and disinformation.

“This is a threat to democratic institutions. It is a threat when we see the kinds of harms that we saw in Western Sydney, where mis- and disinformation meant that police officers on duty were put in the line of harm,” Ms Rowland said.

“A riot essentially was instigated, public property was damaged as result of the proliferation of platforms who are not enforcing their own systems and processes.”

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