In the absence of agreed workable models, choice will invariably mean that the providers will take the path of least resistance and do what is easiest for them. In my experience, this generally defaults to self-declaration and or an unrealistic age classification that mitigates their responsibility but doesn’t address the problems for their undeclared underage users.
Not that long ago, while visiting a primary school with the Ineqe Safeguarding Group I spoke with a boy aged 10. Already a user of some of the popular sites whose terms and conditions required him to be 13, he explained his approach to age verification.
He signed up, not using the date of birth of a 13-year-old but as if he was 15. He explained that social media companies are very clever and that if he had said 13, that would have been too obvious a lie. The nodding heads of his peers implied that this logic was accepted.
By the time he is 13 and old enough to visit the sites he routinely frequents – the site will think he is 18. His ‘virtual self’ has aged, become an adult and is subject to and exposed to targeted advertising, language and content meant for adults.