Facebook Inc., the world’s biggest social network, should have access restricted to people older than 18, some Australian politicians say in response to concerns over online bullying that led teenagers to commit suicide.
Australian top law enforcement officials, attending a two- day forum in Adelaide that began yesterday, discussed proposals from South Australia’s Attorney General John Rau that would require Facebook to verify the ages of people creating accounts or force the website to guarantee parents access to their children’s accounts.
Facebook, which says it has more than 750 million users worldwide, has more than 10 million in Australia, or half the population of the country, according to social media tracking website Socialbakers. About 14 percent of the users are under 18 years of age, according to the website.
“We most certainly could regulate any Australian entity, so that we can specify that the age of consent was 18,” Robert McClelland, the federal attorney general, told reporters outside the meeting yesterday, according to a transcript provided by his office. “Having Australian jurisdiction extend offshore is the challenge.”
Rau was asked to propose “a model that does work” to the rest of the attorneys general, McClelland said.
Stuart Wragg, an outside spokesman for Facebook in Australia, declined to comment.
After today’s meeting, the attorneys general issued a communiqué stating that they discussed concerns about parents being unable to access or otherwise deal with inappropriate content uploaded onto their child’s social networking pages. They didn’t elaborate.
The discussion follows last year’s report from the Mental Health Council of Australia, a non-governmental organization, that cited three instances of teenagers taking their own life after being bullied or threatened online.
The cases included that of Alex Wildman, a 14-year-old who, committed suicide and, according to the investigating coroner, bullying at school and on the Internet played a “significant” role in his death.
While the politicians’ desire to protect children from online predators is “well meaning” their approach shows they don’t understand the Internet or how it works, Susan McLean, the first police cyber safety officer in the state of Victoria and now an online consultant, said in a phone interview.
“It’s entirely unrealistic,” she said. “Mark Zuckerberg isn’t obligated to listen to Australians,” McLean said, referring to Facebook’s founder.
Children will lie about their age, McLean said. Parents will create accounts for their underage children. It already happens with those as young as eight, who have Facebook accounts, even though the website restricts membership to those 13 and over, she added.
“I had one mom say to me: I can’t say no. She won’t like me,” referring to her eight-year-old girl, McLean said.
Some parents have also called for tighter restrictions after Facebook-advertised parties have spiraled out of control.
In Helena Valley, Western Australia, police had to don riot gear in February after coming under siege by as many as 300 drunken children, including some as young as 10, who pelted the officers with rocks and bottles, Perth Now, the on-line version of Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper, reported.
The party had been organized by a 14-year-old who posted details on Facebook, according to the article.
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