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Meta slammed by campaigners after making 'tone deaf' change on WhatsApp

Meta slammed by campaigners after making 'tone deaf' change on WhatsApp

Meta has reduced WhatsApp's minimum age limit from 16 to 13 in the EU and UK.

WhatsApp and its parent company Meta have come under fire after changing the minimum age requirements for the messaging app.

The minimum age previously stood at 16, but now WhatsApp can now be used by anyone from 13 and up.

The change came into force last Thursday in the EU and UK, but has been greeted with quite heavy criticism from parenting groups and other campaigners.

SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty
SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty

Campaign group Smartphone Free Childhood called the change "tone deaf" and its co-founder Daisy Greenwell told The Times: "WhatsApp is putting shareholder profits first and children’s safety second."

According to Greenwell, one of the major challenges that WhatsApp poses for parents is that it has a reputation for being a safer app for teenagers, because it's seen "just messaging".

However, the many tools available to users on WhatsApp, and group size limits that now allow for really large chats, mean that it can still be used as a broad social media experience, rather than just a simple messaging service.

According to Greenwell, "it 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 went on to argue that "WhatsApp is far from risk-free. It’s often the first platform where children are exposed to extreme content, bullying is rife and it’s the messaging app of choice for sexual predators due to its end-to-end encryption".

According to Meta, however, this change brings the age restrictions in the UK and EU into line with those that it imposes on the majority of other countries, and it also underlined the protections it has in place to protect young users, particularly young people.

Matt Cardy / Contributor / Getty
Matt Cardy / Contributor / Getty

One example is a new nudity filter system that it will apply to DMs (direct messages) on Instagram, which will be turned on by default. It will detect and blur any images sent to users which contain nudity. The users will also be presented with a message reassuring them that they don't have to respond, and the option to block the sender.

That sounds like a useful feature, although it's only been announced for Instagram at present.

Of course, there are plenty of parental controls built into smartphones, along with those provided by internet and mobile data providers, which can be used to limit or restrict access to certain apps. These might become more important than ever for some parents if age restrictions continue to loosen for social media platforms.

Featured Image Credit: NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty