By Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU

During a 24-hour Twitter Poll, a majority of participants believed that Ireland should set its digital age of consent at 16, not 13 as said by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection.

The poll was run by renowned cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken and Professor Barry O’Sullivan director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. According to them, the age of 13 is too young to be able to legally agree to the terms and conditions of internet and social media without the consent of their parents.

A total of 1,658 people voted in the poll with just 24% of those, agreeing with Dr Shannon, while 46% agreed that the age should be set at 16.

“We didn’t expect this level of participation but it seemed to strike a chord,” said Dr. Mary Aiken. “People want to have a say when it comes to deciding the Irish digital age of consent. There should be a nationwide series of public debates on this important subject, whereby there is informed and expert consideration of developmental factors, and where the voice of Irish people can be heard in terms of deciding what’s best for Irish children in an age of technology”

“When it comes to technology and children, the digital age of consent really is a child-protection issue. An arbitrary statement that every child at 13 is capable of consenting to the terms and conditions of online service providers is problematic, given the potential risks that they face” wrote Mary Aiken and Pr. Barry O’Sullivan for the Irish Times.

They also argue that Ireland should adopt a range – closer to 16 than 13 – in order to protect the children who are less well equipped to deal with the complexities that digital consent presents. They do admit that an age range is necessary because  in a psychological context developmental stages are not achieved on specific dates. Maturity varies with age.

This is an ongoing debate in European countries. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) allows each member state to choose its own digital age of consent within a range of age, the lower limit being 13 and the upper 16.

Prof Barry O’Sullivan said, “This is a major decision that needs to be carefully considered with inputs from all stakeholders. A poor decision around the digital age of consent would have major impacts. I can’t understand, when viewed as an issue of child protection, how the lowest, rather than the highest age allowable under the GDPR could be seen as acceptable.”

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