Indonesian Teenagers Face Sweeping Restrictions On Social Media Use

The proposed rules are part of a global debate over how old is old enough to have an account.
November 25, 2020, 6:45am
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A motorcycle-taxi driver stops near a banner with the Facebook logo in Jakarta on March 22, 2018. Photo: Bay ISMOYO / AFP

Indonesian teenagers may soon need parental approval to legally open social media accounts under new legislation that proposes sweeping restrictions for anyone under 17 years old in a country with surging rates of internet and smartphone use.

For reasons including privacy, bullying, potential exploitation, and in accordance with U.S. laws where many prominent tech firms are based, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter require users to be at least 13 years old to set up an account. But lawmakers in Indonesia say they lack similar regulations and higher age limits are needed to better protect children from harm online.

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“We cannot control the whole content, social media content, especially related to violence, pornography or hate speech. That is why one of the alternatives is to limit the age for users,” Abdul Kadir Kading, a member of parliament whose commission is tasked with deliberating the new rules, was quoted as saying. It is unclear when they might pass and become law.

A 2020 survey said the majority of social media users in Indonesia were between 25 to 34 years old. But different research published last year found that more than 90 percent of internet users in the country were teenagers and young adults between 15 and 19 years old. Facebook and Instagram are two of the dominant platforms, but YouTube and TikTok are also popular. 

In a virtual discussion about the proposal last week, an official from the communications ministry admitted that the new rules might be “hard” to impose, but said users under 17 can still open accounts with consent from their parents.

“The communication between parents and children will end otherwise, because the kids will have their own world, the parents will have their own world,” Samuel Pangerapan, the director general of Applied Informatics, said. A representative from the ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment from VICE World News. A spokesperson for Facebook in Indonesia declined to comment when contacted.

Indonesia says it is trying to adopt rules similar to many other countries, where age limits on social media access vary based on perceived maturity and local laws but are standard. Ismail Fahmi, an expert on Indonesian social media, told VICE World News that the proposal is mostly about regulating consent on personal data, and that all other arguments should be secondary.

“It means a platform is only allowed to collect data from users who are at least 17 years old without parental permission,” Fahmi said. He believes that if applied to Indonesia, the law would create strong protections where there are none. “This is the right move and should be followed by educating the public.”

Debates over social media and age requirements have surfaced repeatedly in recent years. Those in favor of higher age rules have argued that the lack of stricter barriers around accessing platforms have negatively affected the self-esteem of kids and teenagers, or made them more vulnerable to harassment and online abuse.

Diana, who goes by one name and is a single mother of a 15-year-old daughter in Indonesia, supports the change after feeling in the dark about her child’s activities on the internet. “I have been very concerned about what my daughter does online, whether she talks to strangers, boys, and meets them elsewhere without my knowledge,” she said. If I could, I would not allow her to have a social media account until she graduates high school.”