Outrage over WhatsApp’s ‘highly irresponsible’ decision as it ‘puts profits first’

Social media giant WhatsApp has triggered a wave of outrage after it announced it was reducing its minimum age of use by three years from 16 to 13.

The messaging company, owned by Meta, announced the change earlier this week.

In response, child safety groups and other experts have urged Meta – which also owns Facebook and Instagram – to reverse the change over concerns for children’s welfare.

Statistics suggest WhatsApp is the second most popular social media platform for children with over 55 percent of three- to 17-year-olds thought to be using it, according to Ofcom.

Campaign group Smartphone Free Childhood is one of the groups calling for Meta to reverse the decision.

Speaking to the Times, co-founder of Smartphone Free Childhood Daisy Greenwood described the move as “tone deaf” and one that was “putting shareholder profits first”.

Ms Greenwood added that it “ignores the increasingly loud alarm bells being rung by scientists, doctors, teachers, child safety experts, parents and mental health experts alike”.

The co-founder also explained that WhatsApp “works like a gateway drug for the rest of the social media apps. If you’re messaging your friends on WhatsApp, why not message them on Snapchat?”.

She also said that while WhatsApp can sometimes be seen as just a messaging platform in some cases it was so much more and one where children were exposed to “extreme content”.

Conservative member of the education select committee Vicky Ford echoed calls for a reversal of the decision. She said: “Social media can be very damaging for young people. WhatsApp, because it’s end-to-end encrypted, is potentially even more dangerous, as illegal content cannot be easily removed.

“So for Meta to unilaterally decide to reduce the age recommendation for WhatsApp, without listening to affected parents, seems to me to be highly irresponsible.”

The decision by Meta to change its rules on WhatsApp comes nearly four years after a study of nine to 17-year-olds found that over half – 56 percent – experienced victimisation or bullying in their groups on the messaging app.

Fellow academic Dr Katilyn Regehr from University College London highlighted how the content inside closed groups can sometimes be worse than it is on platforms where everyone can see the posts.

SOURCE

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