Social Media Companies Threatened with New Laws if They Don't Do More to Protect Children Online

By Tom Pritchard on at

The relationship between the government and social media companies is fragile at best, especially since the government has spent a lot of time threatening them with new laws and taxes over the topic of extremist content. Now there are more threats being thrown their way with the topic of child safety on the cards, but they're coming from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for some reason.

For those that don't know Jeremy Hunt is responsible for the NHS and other such things, which is a job that's made him incredibly unpopular. So it feels a big odd that he's getting involved in the social media debate, and threatening companies if they don't do more to protect the interests of children online. But Hunt has written a letter to social media firms, accusing" them of "turning a blind eye" to their impact on children and threatening new taxes and legislation if they don't make some changes.

"I am concerned that your companies seem content with a situation where thousands of users breach your own terms and conditions on the minimum user 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."

Hunt's given them until the end of the month to work on cutting down underage use, preventing cyber bullying, and promoting limits on screen time. Seeing as how there are only eight days of April left, he's hasn't exactly given them a large window of time to deal with things. Though Hunt has met with social media companies before, with the latest meeting taking place six months ago on the topic of improving the mental health of young social media users.

He told the Sunday Times that that meeting resulted in "warm words" and "a few welcome moves", but admitted that the overall action taken by social media firms has been "extremely limited".

While Hunt seems like a strange person to be tackling this situation (Minister for Children Nadhim Zahawi might have made more sense), it does seem like the latest example of social media companies preferring to continue running as they always have without making any changes. They've always been resistant to change, and only ever seem to respond with action when threats are made. Maybe this encourage them to start making some serious changes, though threats are meaningless if nobody ends up following through on them. [BBC News]

Image: NHS Confederation/Flickr