Restrictions for minors on platforms

Restrictions for minors on platforms
Age limits
Content Moderation

In the early hours of June 20, Twitter suspended the account of Francisco Vera, a young environmental activist who has been appointed UN child advisor and who used the platform, where he had close to 90,000 followers, to educate about his causes. The decision provoked outrage among users and was criticized by environmental organizations such as WWF and Guardians for Life, as well as by the Danish ambassador to Colombia, Erik Høeg

At first, many linked the suspension to the last tweet that had been published on the account, where Francisco celebrated the victory of Gustavo Petro in the presidential elections in Colombia, and even several media outlets gave that approach to the news. 

The reason, however, was far from political. That same day, Francisco explained that he had been sanctioned for failing to comply with the basic rules for a user to have an account on the platform, as he was just 28 days short of turning 13, the minimum age required by Twitter. The account, he said, was supervised by his mother, as noted in the biography. 

Francisco Vera's profile before the suspension of Twitter.

On Facebook, where he clarified what had happened, Francisco expressed his rejection of the sanction: "It seems a bit wrong to me that while we claim the rights of children in the discourse, we close the spaces of participation and dissemination of their voices. It seems that we can only be heard where we dedicate ourselves to entertain but not to think or raise our voices". 

Platform limits 

Like other platforms, Twitter states that if the age requirements are not met, the account will be deleted. Facebook and TikTok, which also use the 13-year-old minimum age standard, are heading in the same direction. 

For social media companies, enforcing this rule is particularly difficult. If platforms have problems checking, for example, whether a content uses a discriminatory slur or promotes terrorism, verifying users' personal information, which they may very well lie about, is a much more complex task. 

As explained by Meta, its moderators are able to detect if an account belongs to a minor. In such cases, the user will be asked to verify their age, and if they are unable to do so, their account will be suspended. Artificial intelligence also plays an important role in enforcing these rules, as the systems are trained to discover signals that can detect this kind of infraction. For example, as the company explains, if on your birthday other people congratulate you on reaching the age of 12, it is very likely that your account will be reviewed.

Age rules have also led to massive mistakes. For example, in 2018, when Twitter tried to abide by the GDPR's rules on minors-the European Union's general data protection regulation-it ended up deleting the accounts of thousands of users who had registered on the platform before the age of 13, even if they were of legal age at the time. It took the platform about a year to correct this error and reactivate the suspended accounts. 

Other platforms have only demanded this kind of requirements when not having them has meant a penalty for them. This is the case of TikTok, which in 2019 introduced age verification after having received a fine of more than five million dollars for breaches of the U.S. Children's Data Protection Act committed by the app -absorbed and merged to create the current TikTok. 

In addition to protecting your information, behind these restrictions is the need to protect minors from dangerous content they may be exposed to online, as well as to keep them safe from adults who may send them messages.

However, as several platforms have already admitted, it is a reality that children of all ages are actively participating in social media. In response, some, such as Instagram and TikTok, have begun to design user experiences exclusively for children under 13. Twitter, for its part, allows users who have lost their accounts for violating age limits to recover them with parental consent. 

Two days after being suspended, Francisco Vera recovered his Twitter account. In announcing his return to the platform, he thanked the company for having attended to his case. Beyond the safety of minors, in the background is the need to protect their freedom of expression. As Francisco himself said when announcing his return: "Virtual platforms are a space to exercise our citizenship and it is very important that the voice of children from there is heard".

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