Jeremy Hunt says social media companies should help spot children at risk of mental illness
Jeremy Hunt has called on tech giants like Facebook and Twitter to do more to tackle the scourge of mental illness among young people.
The Health and Social Care Secretary has previously complained that companies are not doing enough to keep their young users safe online.
Ministers are now apparently mulling plans to make sites send users direct messages if they begin to exhibit worrying patterns of behaviour, such as searching for pages about self-harm and suicide.
They also want social media firms to share more data with the NHS to help them identify the youngsters most at risk.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Mr Hunt yesterday told a meeting at the Royal College of Psychiatrists that companies should use the sophisticated targeting software to help protect young users.
“If they are smart enough to be able to target a consumer who happens to live near a Sainsbury's, to suggest they might pop into Sainsbury's and to know they like chocolate and target them with a chocolate ad then they can certainly help us identify their users who are at the highest risk of mental illness,” he said.
“I think it's massively in their self-interest to do that and I want to get tangible here."
He also repeated his complaint about sites not doing more to clamp down on underage users accessing their platforms.
“I think there are some very specific things they can do. One of them is help us stop underage users. All the social media companies have a policy of saying you shouldn't be under 13, but people go on and lie about their age," Mr Hunt said.
“Now these guys are brilliant at technology so surely they can find a way of stopping people under-13 setting up accounts. Because of course if you lie, if you say you're 13 when you're seven, by the time you get to 13 the website thinks you're 19 and who knows what sort of content you're going to be able to access.
"So they could help us with that. They could help us by sharing information about cyberbullying about which we know very little because at the moment they don't share their data. Things like that they could do very very easily and I think they should.”