Social media giant Meta has lowered the minimum age required to use WhatsApp in Europe to 13 from 16, sparking criticism from children’s rights advocates. The new age restriction came into force in the European Union on Thursday. The new minimum age of 13 was also announced for users in the United Kingdom in February. The messaging service — which Meta (META) acquired a decade ago — says on its website that the changes ensure “a consistent minimum age requirement for WhatsApp globally.”

However, the lower age limit has ignited criticism from children’s rights advocates in the UK who argue that it further exposes young people to a slew of well-documented online harms. In a statement Thursday, the UK-based campaign group Smartphone Free Childhood called on WhatsApp to reverse the new policy. “WhatsApp is putting shareholder profits first and children’s safety second,” said Daisy Greenwell, the group’s co-founder.

Reducing the age limit is “completely tone-deaf,” she said, “and ignores the increasingly loud alarm bells being rung by scientists, doctors, teachers, child safety experts, parents and mental health experts alike” over the harms of social media use for children. Vicky Ford, a UK lawmaker from the ruling Conservative Party and member of a key government committee on education, called the decision to lower the minimum age without speaking to parents first “irresponsible,” PA Media reported.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told CNN Friday: “We give all users options to control who can add them to groups and, the first time you receive a message from an unknown number, we give you the option to block and report the account.” The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has not responded to a request for comment.

Meta has been roundly criticized in the past for its push to lower age restrictions across platforms in the United States. Last year, the company said it was planning to reduce the minimum age for its virtual reality app from 13 to 10 years old, despite pressure from US lawmakers not to market such services to younger users.

CNN also reported last year that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg had personally and repeatedly thwarted initiatives meant to improve the well-being of teens on Facebook and Instagram, the company’s other platforms. At times, Zuckerberg directly overruled some of his most senior executives, who had been pushing for greater protections for adolescents, according to internal communications made public as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the company.

But, in a press release Thursday — unrelated to the change in WhatsApp’s age policy in Europe — Meta said it was testing features to protect young people from the dangers of “sextortion” and “intimate image abuse.” It hopes the new features will “make it more difficult for potential scammers and criminals to find and interact with teens.”

Sextortion predators typically trick young victims into believing they are talking to people their own age. They persuade them to send explicit photos and videos, and later threaten to publicize those images unless a payment is sent.

Source: CNN

Benjamin Mensah

By Benjamin Mensah

Benjamin Mensah [Freshhope] is a young man, very passionate about the youth of this Generation. Very friendly, reliable and very passionate about the things of God and all that I do. The mission is to inform, educate and entertain. Feel free to send your whatsapp messages to +233266550849 and call on +233242645676

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