Health Secretary calls for social media giants to stop “turning a blind eye” | Bolt Burdon Kemp Health Secretary calls for social media giants to stop “turning a blind eye” | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Health Secretary calls for social media giants to stop “turning a blind eye”

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has called for social media platforms to do more to protect children online and is prepared to change the law to introduce tougher safeguarding policies.

In a strongly worded letter sent to Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Google, Hunt criticised social media companies for “turning a blind eye” to psychological problems suffered by children who have uncontrolled access to their online platforms.

Hunt has expressed his concern and disappointment at the lack of progress made in areas such as age verification and online abuse.  He stressed that the Government does not rule out bringing in new legislation to deal with the situation in the very near future.

The Health Secretary warned that the failure of platforms to prevent young children using social media was “unacceptable and irresponsible”.

In his letter to the internet giants, Hunt said: “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.

“This is not a blanket criticism and I am aware that these aren’t easy issues to solve… however, it is clear to me that the voluntary joint approach has not delivered the safeguards we need to protect our children’s mental health.”                                                                                                            

“Sufficient Will”

Hunt has questioned whether social media giants had “sufficient will” to change their current policies and introduce better safeguarding measures to protect children.

Six months ago, Hunt met with a number of social media companies 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.”

Hunt claims “a lot of warm words” had been exchanged since, but “few welcome moves”. According to Hunt, the overall response from social media companies has been “extremely limited”, conceding that a voluntary approach will no longer be enough to tackle the issue.

In December 2017, the Health Secretary publicly attacked Facebook for releasing a social medial platform aimed at children, telling the company to “stay away from my kids”.

Hunt has also launched a review by the Chief Medical Officer on the impact of technology on the mental health of children.

At present, the age requirement to sign up to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and WhatsApp is just 13.

Abuse in the Digital Age

Sadly, a harsh reality of the fast evolving digital age is that children are more vulnerable than ever. Social media sites are not the only platforms that leave children exposed to potentially being abused.

For example, sexting is often wrongly dismissed as harmless fun and many teenagers view it as a normal part of modern flirting.  Bolt Burdon Kemp believes that not enough emphasis is being placed on the fact this activity can open the floodgates to a new form of child abuse.  Our #ChildAbuseInTheDigitalAge campaign aims to change this.

Following Bolt Burdon Kemp’s ground breaking 2015 sexting case, ABC v West Heath 2000 (1) Whillock (2), where we secured £25,000 damages for a victim of sexting – we resolved to do more to shed light on the issue:

While Hunt’s latest call for social media platforms to improve their safeguarding polices is welcomed much more still needs to be done to protect children from abuse in the digital age.

Thomas Beale is a senior solicitor in the Child Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you or a loved one have a claim, contact Thomas free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4823 or at  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Child Abuse team will contact you.  You can find out more about the Child Abuse team.

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