Regulate social media firms to protect children, tech committee says

A report from the Common Science and Technology Committee has recommended that social media firms should have a legal “duty of care” to protect children.

It called for the government to establish a regulator towards helping improve children’s safety and to take enforcement action against a firm if it breaks the law.

In its report, Impact of Social Media and Screen-use on Young People’s Health, the committee said sites are affecting young users’ sleep patterns, changing their body image and leaving them exposed to bullying.

The report also states that online platforms have led to a rise in grooming and child abuse, with the National Crime Agency reporting a 700% rise in the number of online child abuse cases referred to them by national investigators over the last three years.

The report was produced by a cross-party group of MPs including Liberal Democrat, Norman Lamb, Conservative, Damien Moore, Labour’s Liz Kendall, and the SNP’s Carol Monaghan.

Data sharing laws

Despite all the furore surrounding Facebook’s data scandal, the report said social media firms must share data with researchers more frequently, and urged the government to bring in new data sharing laws to protect those at risk from such sites.

The report notes that the current regulation is inadequate and leads to a so-called standards lottery, which has failed to protect young internet users.

Norman Lamb, chair of the STC, said: “We understand their eagerness to protect the privacy of users but sharing data with bona fide researchers is the only way society can truly start to understand the impact, both positive and negative, that social media is having on the modern world.

“During our inquiry, we heard that social media companies had openly refused to share data with researchers who are keen to examine patterns of use and their effects. This is not good enough.”

‘Growing up Digital’

On Wednesday (Jan.30th), England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, published her own open letter, urging social media firms to take more responsibility when it comes to protecting children from disturbing content.

In her open letter, Growing up Digital, she said the social media companies should agree “to be bound by a statutory duty of care, a legal obligation to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of children using your platforms.”

Suicide posts

Concerns about social media tarnishing the mental health of children have been reignited following the death of 14-year-old, Molly Russell.

Russel’s father blamed Facebook-owned Instagram for his daughter’s death after it emerged that she viewed images that promoted self-harm and suicide.

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), said: “We have heard calls for an Internet Regulator and to place a statutory ‘duty of care’ on platforms, and are seriously considering all options.

“Social media companies clearly need to do more to ensure they are not promoting harmful content to vulnerable people. Our forthcoming white paper will set out their responsibilities, how they should be met and what should happen if they are not.”

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