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07 December 2017

Health Secretary Calls For Facebook To ‘Do More’ For Children’s Mental Health

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has accused Facebook of showing “little interest” in the mental health of its younger users after the platform announced plans to launch a messenger service for under 13s.

In a piece for The Times today, said he was “surprised and concerned” by the launch announcement and the normalisation of social media usage among children as young as five, at a time when rates of mental illness among children are rising.

Mr Hunt wrote: “As a parent, it is hard to be reassured by Facebook’s talk of new parental controls, when the big issue is the normalisation of social media use by children as young as five. And it’s not Luddite to ask if we really want to encourage a generation of primary school children to become hooked on social media.

"So it is time for Facebook to think again. Not just about the profits that come from hooking people at an ever younger age. But about the damage to its reputation among parents if it continues to show so little interest in the mental health of its younger users."

He wrote: “A psychologist told me that the ability of social media to connect millions of people also created pressure on teenagers to compare themselves with their peers in a way that never happened when most of us were younger.

“As a parent I worry for my own kids. I worry they will end up being bullied not just at school but find they can’t escape even at home when they log on in their bedrooms. I worry they will get sucked into spending hours online instead of forming face-to-face relationships that I believe are healthier.

“Facebook and other tech companies recently agreed to come up with ideas to tackle the use of their platforms by people who lie about their age, and to stop schoolchildren being online too long. Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, and I said we would consider regulation or legislation if they didn’t want to work with us, but hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.

“So I was surprised and concerned when Facebook announced its plans to launch a new Messenger service for under-13s. It talked up a raft of “child-friendly features” but this is a troubling move at a time when rates of mental illness among young people are rising.

“Sean Parker, who helped to set up the company, recently explained that its business model was built on luring people with the ‘dopamine hit’ of peer approval. Describing the “unintended consequences” of this, he added: ‘It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.’”