Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has threatened Social Media Companies with new laws, accusing the likes of Facebook and Google of “turning a blind eye” to their impact on children.
In an open letter, Hunt wrote, “I am concerned your companies seem content with a situation where thousands of users breach your own terms and conditions on the minimum age.
“I fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side effects of Social Media prematurely.
“This is both morally wrong and deeply unfair to parents who are faced with the invidious choice of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from Social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in.”
At present, the age requirement to join Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat is 13, with the latter recently launching a version for under 13-year old. Google-owned YouTube also calls for users to be at least 13.
Hunt has given the firms until the end of April to outline their plans to reduce underage use, prevent cyber bulling and promote healthy “screen time”. According to Hunt, the government would not rule out introducing new legislation to tackle these particular issues.
Six months ago, Hunt met with social media companies, including Facebook, to discuss improving the mental health of young people using social media networks. At the time, Facebook said it was interested in working with the government “to make sure we do everything we can to protect people’s wellbeing.”
Writing in the Sunday Times, Hunt revealed “a lot of warm words” had been exchanged since, but “few welcome moves”. Calling the overall response from social media companies “extremely limited”, conceding a voluntary, joint approach will no longer be enough to tackle the issue.
At the end of last year, Facebook introduced an extension of its Messenger service for the under-13 set, 'Messenger Kids'. Here, Dr. Brad Berens, chief strategy officer at the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg and principal at Big Digital Idea Consulting in Portland, Oregon, explains why he thinks the app is a bad idea for young users.