Jeremy Hunt threatens ‘irresponsible’ social media firms with tough new child-protection laws
Jeremy Hunt has pledged a crackdown on tech firms who are failing to protect children using social media sites with a raft of new laws.
In a strongly worded letter to tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter, the Health Secretary revealed ministers are mulling legislation to enforce screen time limits after research showed that children spending too long on the platforms were more likely to suffer mental illness.
He has given the social media firms one week to explain the steps they are currently taking to tackle cyber-bullying and encourage healthy screen time and set out their plans for the future.
Mr Hunt warned firms that “turning a blind eye” to the problem was “unacceptable and irresponsible”.
He said plans to come down hard on companies who allow flagrant breaches of age limits are also being considered by ministers.
Mr Hunt said: "In particular, progress on age verification is not good enough. 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.
"It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position."
Writing in The Sunday Times, Mr Hunt said that previous talks with the tech giants had resulted in “a lot of warm words” but that overall their response to tackling the problem had been “extremely limited”.
As part of the Government's plans, the Health Secretary has ordered the chief medical office to launch a review into the effects of social media on children's mental health.
“None are easy issues to solve I realise, but an industry that boasts some of the brightest minds and biggest budgets should have been able to rise to the challenge," said Mr Hunt.