The prohibition of social media would be detrimental to culturally diverse teenagers’ well-being

The prohibition of social media would be detrimental to culturally diverse teenagers' well-being

There is currently a bipartisan effort from state and federal governments in Australia to implement laws that would prohibit young people under the age of 16 from accessing social media platforms. The reasoning behind this push is the concern that minors are being exposed to harmful or inappropriate content online.

In conjunction with this proposed reform, the federal government plans to pilot “age assurance” technologies. These tools for age verification range from uploading identification documents to the use of biometric face-scanning technologies. However, many of these methods come with their own set of problems, including privacy risks.

Research conducted both overseas and in Australia has already raised concerns about the potential negative effects of implementing a social media ban. Australian research has specifically highlighted the importance of social media for young people’s right to access information and participate in society. However, little attention has been given to the potential impact of the ban on marginalized young people within the community.

Our research focused on culturally diverse young people aged 13-18, as well as educators and policymakers in New South Wales and Victoria. In our forthcoming study, we discovered that young people who have migrated to Australia or have parents or grandparents who migrated are proficient users of social media. They utilize these platforms to connect with their culture and community, express their opinions on relevant issues, and address digital and social harms.

Similar to the ongoing debates surrounding the social media ban, our research also revealed a disconnect between how adults and culturally diverse youths perceive the role of digital and social media in young people’s lives. There is also a difference of opinion regarding how to create safer online environments.

Educators and policymakers in our study believed that young people from certain communities are more vulnerable to social harms associated with accessing inappropriate content. Therefore, these adults advocated for increased parental controls and limitations on social media usage. On the other hand, the young people in our study argued that social media allows them to fulfill responsibilities beyond personal safety. These responsibilities include connecting with family and friends, learning about different cultures, engaging in activism and advocacy against hate and racism, and fostering positive online communities.

It is important to note that social media engagement for young people is not always public and vocal. They also participate in quieter acts focused on finding information and building supportive communities through moderation and respectful dialogue. This highlights the need to move beyond viewing social media solely as a source of harm for young people.

By banning young people’s access to social media, we risk denying them agency, ignoring their capabilities, and hindering their skillful navigation of these platforms. Our study demonstrated that young people have a sense of social responsibility to raise their voices against collective harms and to learn the tools and skills necessary to combat toxic online cultures. Banning their access to social media would result in the loss of these valuable skills.

Therefore, we argue that age-based social media bans would have unintended consequences and harms, such as silencing diverse voices critical to building safer digital communities and societies. It is crucial to consider the perspectives and experiences of culturally diverse young people when formulating policies related to social media usage.