As a society, children’s health, welfare and protection is paramount. In every aspect of life parents, guardians, local authorities, government, social workers and general practitioners all put safeguarding children at the top of the list. So why should social media giants be exempt from adhering to the same exacting standards?
Startling figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reveal that teenage suicides have almost doubled in eight years in England. Official figures set to be released in September 2019 will show that suicides are at more than five in 100,000 teenagers in England up from just over three in 100,000 in 2010.
Furthermore, in 2017 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) undertook a study and found that British teenagers are among the unhappiest in the world. While they spend most of their time online, they are also more anxious about being bullied and going to school than their counterparts in other countries.
With this in mind, the government is calling on social networks to do more to protect young people online and what content they are exposed too.
Margot James, the digital minister, confirmed that the government would soon publish a white paper, followed by a period of consultation over the summer, setting out the options to regulate platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.
In her speech delivered to a packed auditorium of young adults on Safer Internet Day she said: “Online safety is a top priority for the Government and we want to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. We will soon be publishing an Online Harms White Paper which will set out clear expectations for companies to help keep their users, particularly children, safe online.
“Internet companies have always enjoyed legal protection from liability for user generated content. This laissez faire environment has led some companies to pursue growth and profitability with little regard for the security and interests of their users. There is far too much bullying, abuse, misinformation and manipulation online as well as serious and organised crime online.”
This move could also see executives of social media companies being held personally liable if content that is harmful to children is not removed. We are expecting to see an end to self-regulation for social media giants requiring them by law to remove harmful content or face fines.
Given this medium of communication didn’t exist 20 years ago, it is clear why there is a current lack of legislation to govern social media giants who should have a moral duty of care to protect its users, especially the young.
The debate is fuelled by the devasting effects social media has had on one young lady, Molly Russel who at the young age of 14, sadly committed suicide in November 2017. Molly’s father said she had taken her own life after looking at self-harming images on Instagram.
Health experts across the board are realising and vocalising the detrimental effects upon children’s health from over exposure to social media, and despite parental efforts to safeguard their children online, it would seem a near impossible task with such a barrage of information, images and constant updates readily available. What may seem like an innocent and harmless ‘App’ can have so many hidden elements and ways for children to become exposed to inappropriate content. Take for example the craze sweeping the nation, ‘Fortnite’, a seemingly innocuous online gaming platform, but one which has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“Chilling Fortnite warning over paedophiles grooming children on the game as National Crime Agency urges parents to be vigilant.” – The Sun
“Fortnite chat raises stranger danger fears from NSPCC” – BBC News
“Fortnite warning as headteacher tells parents game is making children violent and aggressive” – The Telegraph
Concluding her speech, Ms James said: “For too long the response from many of the large platforms has fallen short. There have been no fewer than fifteen voluntary codes of practice agreed with platforms since 2008. Where we are now is an absolute indictment of a system that has relied far too little on the rule of law.
“The government is determined to act so that we can all enjoy the huge benefits of new technology, without our children, and other vulnerable individuals, being put at risk of serious harm.”
It will be interesting to see how this story progresses and what new regulations the Government may introduce. Whatever the outcome, it would seem all sides do agree on something and that is that keeping children safe online is of absolute paramount.
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