‘Toxic’: TikTok like ’pokies for kids’

Jason Clare says short TikTok videos are hooking kids across the country. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

TikTok and YouTube shorts have become the new “poker machines” for children, the Education Minister has warned, as parents grapple with a surge in kids’ addiction to social media platforms.

Jason Clare said the federal government had legitimate reasons to investigate the harmful impacts of online apps after it launched a senate inquiry into social media companies.

The large-scale probe, announced by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Thursday, will look into how algorithms on apps determine what users see, spread extremist material and disinformation, and impact people’s mental health and wellbeing.

A move by Facebook’s parent company Meta to abandon deals with media companies to support journalism will also be investigated.

“We now know social media is pretty toxic, right, for our kids. Just talking about the impact on children, things like TikTok and YouTube shorts are like poker machines for kids. Just addictive,” Mr Clare said on Friday.

“Mums and dads are grappling with that across the country, but it affects all of us.”

Social media giants Meta and X could be compelled to front public hearings. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Tim Pascoe

Leaders have been quick to condemn social media platforms that they blame for the rapid circulation of false information and violent footage spread in the aftermath of two major stabbing attacks in NSW.

A federal-court case on Friday will hear the Elon Musk-owned X online defend its case against orders by the eSafety commissioner to remove videos of the stabbing of a Sydney priest in April off its platform,

Mr Clare said false information and fake news shared in the wake of the attacks had exacerbated displays of social unrest.

“When you’ve got misinformation, flat-out lies on social media, it can lead to riots like we saw at Wakeley,” he said.

“Then you have the issue of companies like Facebook which ê are effectively taking the work of Australian journalists and not paying for it. I think there is a legitimate reason to look at all of this right across-the-board.”

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley has called for age verification on social media. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Martin Ollman

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley argued that social media apps like TikTok should be brought into the government’s age verification trial that will attempt to block children from accessing online pornography websites.

While the full details of the pilot have yet to be announced, the government announced last week that it will invest $6.5m in the budget to identify available age assurance products to protect children from online harms.

Ms Ley said the decision to exclude social media apps could risk exposure to “vile content” posted across popular platforms.

“I don’t want kids looking at the content we’ve all heard about. Thankfully some of us haven’t seen. But unfortunately, our kids have,” Ms Ley said.

“I want that to be included as well in what will be an age verification approach. So that you actually prevent kids from seeing this in the first place, because once they see it, you can’t unsee it.”