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June, 2024

Reclaiming kids from algorithms: Hyundai signs up to 36 Months campaign, founders Wippa and Galluzzo urge brands to walk purpose talk; Banning social media for under-16s likely hot election issue

What you need to know:

  • Hyundai is the first brand backing Wippa and Galluzzo’s 36 Months campaign to lift the minimum age for social media accounts from 13 to 16.
  • The carmaker’s marketing team have wrapped the campaign to lift the age of social media citizenship to 16 around it’s corporate values which include an “unlimited sense of responsibility for our customers’ safety and happiness” and “respect for mankind”. 
  • The duo are “100 per cent certain” more brands will follow. If not, they have to have “serious discussions” about what they stand for, per Galluzzo.
  • The move comes as US states, EU countries and the UK consider – or enact – similar legislation.
  • The coalition is onboard, and PM Albanese is backing the campaign’s principles. Wippa reckons there are easy votes for both parties to bank and legislation will come sooner rather than later.
  • 36 Months aims to work with parallel campaigns – such as News Corp’s ‘Let them be kids’ platform – as well as brands, community groups, doctors, psychologists and others to create education programs to better prepare kids for digital and physical life and try to rebuild self-esteem, compassion, empathy and community-mindedness as well as better cybersecurity awareness.
  • That way kids stand a better change of healthy adolescent development rather than being productised by algorithms that addict them to unhealthy behaviours and entrench isolation, per the duo.
  • Brands claiming a social license must now consider “how they show up”.
  • Get the full download via the podcast.

All your influence [as a parent] can be overridden by an algorithm deciding what to serve your kids is like welcoming a stranger into the house, and you don't know what they're going to show your kid … The reality is that your child is the product … They're selling your child’s attention span – and their trick is to make sure that what they serve up keeps your kids staring at the screen for as long as possible.

Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli, radio presenter & 36 Months cofounder

The kids aren’t alright

Nova’s Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli and Rob Galluzzo, the boss of production company Finch, are spearheading a push to ban social media for kids under 16. They’re not the only ones. News Corp has its own ‘Let them be kids’ campaign, intent on achieving the same aims (and hard legislation). Locally and globally those calls are getting louder.

Last year the US Surgeon General said the current minimum age requirements set by the platforms themselves – 13 years old across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and others – is “too early”. In Europe, Spain is banning kids under 16 from accessing social media. The UK government is reportedly considering a crackdown on social media by under 16s unless they have parental consent. France already requires under 15s to have parental consent to use social media – and a panel commissioned by president Emmanuel Macron is pushing for much stiffer curbs on child smartphone use full stop. Upcoming elections in France and the UK may put paid to those plans – but their intent shows that Australia is by no means an outlier.

Locally, some aren’t waiting. South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas is bidding to legislate to ban under 14s from social media and require 15-16 year olds to gain parental consent. The coalition is also seeking bipartisan support to take children off social media, and from PM Anthony Albanese’s latest comments, “what we want is our youngest Australians spending more time outside, playing sport, engaging with each other in a normal way, and less time online”, it seems Dutton and co. are pushing at an open door.

Given there’s an election in the next 12 months, and “easy votes” to be had, per Wippa, he and Galluzzo are confident of legislation coming sooner rather than later. So perhaps brands should be front-running that legislation. Hyundai is onboard with 36 Months and the duo think more will follow. Galluzzo is “100 per cent certain” they will pile-in, and take the opportunity to walk all the talk on purpose and community.

“It has to be right for the brand, their values and their ambition. But I’m certain they’re all going to jump on board. Because the question is simply, if we create this space, how do you want to show up?” says Galluzzo. “A brand can go to its board and ask ‘how do we want to show up in 36 Months for these kids, these families or for the community?’ If they don’t have an answer to that, they probably need to have a pretty big discussion about what they stand for as companies.”

De-productising children

The 36 Months campaign is only a few weeks old, but is already nudging 100,000 signatures. Wippa, a father of three, says he’s been troubled for more than a year about the impact of algorithms on his kids. The trigger to actually do something was Jonathan Haidt’s book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.

Published in March, the NYU Stern School of Business social psychologist sets out a compelling case against kids using smartphones and social media due to the impact of algorithmically-generated dopamine hits and attention-hogging dark patterns on mental health (along with the loss of play-based childhoods over the last few decades due to fearful, overly-cautious parents).

Wippa just wants to reclaim those three developmental years to help better prepare adolescents for social media if they choose to join it later. Right now, he says there is no way they can be ready at 13 (and in many cases younger) for what social media serves them, and the “ranking” culture amongst their peers it creates.

“As parents, even before your child’s born, your focus from conception simply becomes trying to be the best parent you can. And from the minute they come out to the day you’re gone, you want to try and be the right dad, the right parent, at that moment in time,” says Wippa.

“To think that all your influence can be overridden by an algorithm deciding what to serve your kids is like welcoming a stranger into the house, and you don’t know what they’re going to show your kid … to steal your child’s attention for a couple of hours, possibly even five to eight hours a day. That’s what you’re talking about.”

Which is why policymakers must find “the balls to step up and say this isn’t good enough for our kids”, says Wippa.

“The reality is that your child is the product, because without your child, it’s like horse racing without gambling – it wouldn’t exist. Knowing that they’re selling your child’s attention span – and their trick is to make sure that what they serve up keeps your kids staring at the screen for as long as possible – that’s just banking hours and attention that they’re making money from. So that’s where I have a bit of an issue.”

We are not ever suggesting that it's going to be fool-proof. But getting three quarters of the country aligned to it, and hopefully much more, we still believe that we can create real systemic change for the country.

Rob Galluzzo, CEO, Finch & cofounder, 36 Months

Power rebalance

Galluzzo is also a father of three. For him it was about “feeling powerless” against the platforms, realising millions of other parents felt the same, and trying to do something about it.

“We’re really clear in our ambition. It is simply to raise the age threshold of social media citizenship. We’re not anti social media broadly. This is really just about saying that at 13, 14 and 15, it’s not healthy for those children to have an account on social media.”

But there are carve outs to the mission – and Galluzzo accepts its limitations.

“It doesn’t solve everything – online bullying for example, because that can still happen in a chat room. And I should be clear that [the ban is targeted only at] any social network that encourages interactive engagement through addictive features. We’re not trying to stop anyone from being part of a WhatsApp group, or a way to connect. It really is about those addictive features and we’re clear about what those current platforms are,” he says.

“But one thing that it does solve for, which is very insidious, especially amongst girls, is that comparative nature: ‘Here’s my account, here’s who I am for the world to see and now I can compare myself if I’m 13, to other 13 year olds, or if I’m 14 to other 14 year olds. Let me compare the way I look, what I eat, where I go, the way I live.’ It is an insidious problem especially for young girls, but also young boys – and that is something that we can solve for,” says Galluzzo. “It’s not the only thing. But for me, it’s a really important part of this mission.”

Progress vs. perfection

While there are ways around any age-verification system, such as use of VPNs, the duo say that making something illegal will have a broader impact.

“If you look at how many households have a VPN in Australia, you’re at 25 per cent. That’s still three quarters of the country that don’t,” says Galluzzo. “We are not ever suggesting that it’s going to be foolproof. But getting three quarters of the country aligned to it, and hopefully much more, we still believe that we can create real systemic change for the country.”

Three years, three tenets

Galluzzo and Wippa underline that they do not want to “build a brand” and own the campaign. Just construct “scaffolding” for people, communities, brands and other similarly-minded campaign groups build on to help teenagers mentally prepare for digital life in those three reclaimed formative years.

So, after conversations with doctors and parenting experts, they’ve created a baseline structure that enables brands and others to “lean-in” and help, says Galluzzo.

“We’ve been able to bracket it into three things. The first one is self-esteem and compassion – arming kids and encouraging the development of self-esteem is super important. That is where resilience is found,” he says.

“In those conversations with some of these doctors, we realised that the word ‘compassion’ needs to be there as well. It’s not just about high self-esteem, it’s about exercising compassion for others as well, which I think ends up missing in the isolation of what happens generally on social media.”

The second tenet is belonging.

“Belonging to communities is very important. We talk a lot about families – and it’s easy if you’ve got a reasonably happy nuclear family. But not everyone’s like that and we need to design for everyone … So when we talk about belonging, and we’re talking about communities. Hopefully, it’s family. But there’s so many ways for 13, 14, 15 year olds to find real community, healthy community, which is anything from surf lifesaving groups to football Australia, a chess club, a cooking group … It might just be a tight group of friends that just hang,” says Galluzzo. “Just a sense of belonging to anything – because when you get down to the nitty-gritty, to the extremes, there is a group of very disenfranchised young kids who don’t feel like they belong, and that leads to loneliness really quickly.

“If the only thing they belong to is being a citizen of TikTok or Instagram, they’re in serious trouble and vulnerable – and as we take that away, how do we design for that? And that’s why self-esteem and compassion, we think, is probably that first thing that if we’re going to do an education program, for year eight, nine and 10 would probably start with self-esteem and compassion.”

The third tenet is cybersecurity and awareness education so that, when a child hits 16 and social media, they are ready for what will come, and the “can hasn’t just been kicked down the road”.

The simple question for brands is how do they want to show up?

Rob Galluzzo, CEO, Finch & cofounder, 36 Months

No pushback?

While there are arguments that teenagers have a right to access digital media, including social media, Wippa says there has been no serious pushback from anyone they have spoken with.

“I don’t know how you could argue it. The reaction as we’ve spoken [to people] has been nothing but supportive, especially from parents of young girls. They’re the most vulnerable. A lot of the statistics say that one in two [teenage girls’] mental health is affected by social media. So about half the kids on there have an issue with what it actually does to them from depression and anxiety and self-harm,” he says. “Boys are also affected. But the graphs seem to show it’s a slower build – and then the outcome can be extremely challenging to hear.”

Brand call out

So how should brands that want to get involved in helping kids develop pre- and post-social media do so?

Hit the website,, the Instagram page “or reach out directly if you have our numbers”, says Galluzzo.

“We just encourage any brand that wants to get involved to collaborate, to maybe develop a program or a product big or small. There’s a space and there’s something that we can do,” he adds.

“So the simple question is how do they want to show up?”

Or they can just keep funnelling billions of dollars into social media and hope everything turns out ok.