• Paul Fingleton

Poll shows 46% believe higher age of consent needed on the Internet

In a recent twitter poll run by cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken and Professor Barry O'Sullivan, director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, 46 per cent of participants in a 24-hour Twitter poll believe that Ireland should set its digital age of consent at 16, not 13, as has been previously recommended by the special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon.

The pair had previously expressed concern about recommendation that Ireland should allow children over the age of 13 to agree to the terms and conditions of internet and social media providers without needing the consent of their parents.


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


The digital age of consent, or the age at which a child can sign up to internet services such as social media accounts without parental approval, is something that is under debate in European Union countries ahead of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in May 2018. The GDPR allows each member state to choose its own digital age of consent within a range of ages, the lower limit being 13 and the upper 16.


A digital age of consent they argued, is a child protection issue and a protective stance is therefore desirable. They argued for the age to be set at 16. They wrote, “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,”


“We didn’t expect this level of participation but it seemed to strike a chord. 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"


- Dr Mary Aiken, cyber-psychologist


After publication, they ran a Twitter poll for 24 hours to see what people thought about the issue.


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.”


Aiken and O’Sullivan argue that in a psychological context developmental stages are not achieved on specific dates (for example by the age 13); rather age ranges are used because children are different – they mature at different rates. The law, of course, needs to focus on a specific age. Aiken and O’Sullivan believe that, Ireland should adopt a protective stance, and arguably legislate towards the upper end of the relevant age band – 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.


If the Twitter poll is anything to go by, many other appear to agree with them

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