I wish that headline were true. The age verification system used by Twitter and other social media sites these days is either woefully inadequate or nonexistent. I was actually encouraged to see the following headlines this week:
Unfortunately, this is another feel-good solution that does little to address the problem.
In the first article above, the writer specifically points out two alcohol brands, Heineken and Jim Beam, where the advertisers had opted in to an age gate whereby Twitter users who want to follow either would be taken to an age verification page where the would have to “prove” their age. That sounds good in principal – I wouldn’t want my teenage sons interacting with alcohol promotions.
Problem 1 – I hit the follow button for Jim Beam with two different twitter accounts. Neither prompted me to verify my age, as a blog post by Twitter Monday titled Age-screening Improvement for Alcohol Brands claimed would be the case.
Problem 2 – The age verification process as it is supposed to work consists of the user, when prompted, entering his or her birth date. If you want to say that you were born in 1965, you can. It’s like the social media companies are training kids on how to lie about their age and get away with it, with no consequences.
While I admit that this new verification step is a little bit better than nothing, holding yourself out to parents as being more responsive to young users when you’re not actually doing anything is disingenuous. What Twitter is doing is giving itself some extra protection in case it is sued over serving adult ads to young users. In addition, though I have no way of verifying this, they’re probably planning to sell the data (your age) back to the advertisers.
I’m sure that the online gaming companies who are going live in New Jersey this week have figured out the age verification game. I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for social media companies to do the same. Until then, parents should keep in mind that it is up to them to manage which sites and networks their kids use.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.