Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 253–262 | Cite as

Who cares? Practical ethics and the problem of underage users on social networking sites

  • Brian O’NeillEmail author
Original Paper


Internet companies place a high priority on the safety of their services and on their corporate social responsibility towards protection of all users, especially younger ones. However, such efforts are undermined by the large numbers of children who circumvent age restrictions and lie about their age to gain access to such platforms. This paper deals with the ethical issues that arise in this not-so-hypothetical situation. Who, for instance, bears responsibility for children’s welfare in this context? Are parents/carers ethically culpable in failing to be sufficiently vigilant or even facilitating their children’s social media use? Do industry providers do enough to enforce their own regulations and remove those users they know to be underage? How far does a duty of care extend? Regulation of age restrictions has, it is argued, created unintended consequences that heighten online dangers for young people. While children are inevitably drawn to new online spaces for entertainment and fun, should their rights to participate in the social world around them be curtailed to ensure their best interests and those of the wider community? Such questions now pose significant practical and ethical dilemmas for policy makers and other stakeholders involved in internet governance. It especially highlights the question of responsibility for protection of minors online and calls into question whether the current model of shared responsibility is working.


Social networking Internet safety Protection of minors Children and privacy Self-regulation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of MediaDublin Institute of TechnologyDublin 2Ireland

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