New research from Ofcom suggests that a third of UK children aged between eight and 17 with a social media profile have the user age of an adult after signing up with a false date of birth.
Yonder Consulting was commissioned by Ofcom to carry out the study. It found that the majority of children aged between eight and 17 (77 per cent) who use social media now have their own profile on at least one of the large platforms, despite most platforms having a minimum age of 13. The research also suggests that 60 per cent of children aged eight to 12 who use these platforms are signed up with their own profile, with up to half setting up at least one of their profiles themselves without parental supervision.
Yonder also revealed that almost half (47 per cent) of children aged eight to 15 with a social media profile have a user age of 16+, while 32 per cent of children aged eight to 17 have a user age of 18+.
Among the younger, eight to 12s, age group the study estimated that two in five (39 per cent) have a user age profile of a 16+ year old, while just under a quarter (23 per cent) have a user age of 18+.
When a child self-declares a false age to gain access to social media or online games they could be placed at greater risk of encountering age-inappropriate or harmful content online. Once a user reaches age 16 or 18, for example, some sites and platforms introduce features not available to younger users – such as direct messaging and the ability to see adult content.
The latest research comes following delays to the Online Safety Bill’s passage through parliament, and a landmark court ruling in September that harmful online content had been a ‘more than minimal’ contributor to the suicide of teenager Molly Russell.