“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.”

Back in April this year our Health Secretary Mr. Hunt submitted a letter to companies such as Facebook and Google accusing them of “turning a blind eye to their impact on children”. Of course this isn’t anything new – this criticism has been floating around for a while now. The interesting twist is that he has given them “To the end of April” to outline actions “on cutting underage use, preventing cyber bullying, and promoting healthy screen time”.


Why was he demanding changes in April?

The Health Secretary met with social media companies in late 2017 to discuss how companies can work together to help fix these issues regarding young people interacting with social media. However, the progress up until April had been “extremely limited” and although Hunt realises that “none are easy issues to solve” – the lack of progress could have promoted this bold 7 day threat window.

Another note to add is that the timely fashion of this gauntlet being thrown down could be due to the recent social media data scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The news has pushed all social media platforms into the spotlight and placed a microscope on how they operate and the impact they are having on society as a whole. The bitter taste left in my mouth (and I imagine a lot of other mouths) when the news of this scandal broke has - most likely - meant that this blunt move by Mr. Hunt is welcomed by the majority of the general public.


The catch 22

“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.”

Some might say that the parents that ‘give in’ to the pressures and allow their children to access these platforms means the blame is entirely on their shoulders. However, take a moment and view it from their eyes. They don't want to see their children upset and excluded from social interactions which can lead to sinister situations such as cyber bullying.

Part of the problem might be due to a lack of knowledge on the parents part - i.e. either not knowing what their child is accessing online or the possible health implications too much screen time can have on a young child. However, even then they are left in a catch 22 situation. Do they let their children use social media and risk mental health issues, or do they battle with their child and stop them using social media - excluding them from many social interaction circles which can again - cause mental health issues.


Government, parents and social media

“Asking Facebook and other social media giants to regulate themselves is like asking the press to regulate themselves. It won’t happen.”

Social media platforms can do everything in their power to reduce underage usage, however let's think hypothetically for a moment. According to Ofocm, by the time a child is 12 years old, there is a 51% change he/she will have online social profile. We take social media away from all of those children - which lets be blunt here - is an addictive activity, what will that do to those children?

Similar to a smoker going cold turkey on nicotine, how do they act? A tip often given to potential quitters is to keep yourself busy whenever you can. However, what can distract them?

The government want to reduce the amount of time children are on social media and/or platforms that aren’t suitable for their age demographic. Great, perfect, happy days – no complaints here.

But then it’s been estimated that £387m “has been cut from youth service spending by local authorities in the last six years”. More and more opportunities for young people to engage with healthy activities has been cut year after year – so it comes as no surprise that the usage of social media has risen. It offers entertainment and connection that has been slowly but surely taken away from them throughout their childhood.

Of course there is the argument of 'simply go play outside' however, when was the last time you saw a playground full of kids playing? The encouragement to do that has been dwindled due to social media taking over young people's priorities and the ease on parental duties on the parents.


So, what's happened since this letter?

Since Mr. Hunt sent this letter a couple of things have been revealed. Firstly, Apple have introduced a feature that 'reduces interruptions and manages screen time.' The feature allows the user to set limits on the amount of time they can use each app, and gives a detailed breakdown on how their phone has been used on a day-to-day basis.

Google have also revealed a 'dashboard' feature in their Android phones that allows the users to limit screen time, a 'wind down mode' to allow users get a better nights sleep, and more 'do not disturb' features. Google wants to promote "meaningful engagement" rather than "the kind of idle screen time that might not necessarily be healthy".

These are great first steps. It's great to see the government getting a little bit more aggressive in their tactics to tackle social media/screen time addiction. Considering the letter was sent a few months ago, these new features have been a speedy response from the two technology giants.

What's most disappointing is that in my research, I couldn't find anything to do with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram revealing new measures to help the issue. Social media companies obviously want people addicted to their services - because it boosts profits. However, I would respect a company more, and be more willing to engage with their content more, if they showed they cared rather than just stay silent and let other people clean up the messes they made.


What are your thoughts on social media addiction? Let me know in the comments below!