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  • Writer's pictureTabby Boyton

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt throws a punch at Social Media Giants

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, recently gave social media conglomerates a warning - that he would take action if they did not put measures in place to protect children online. He gave them a deadline for the end of April to outline these new measures to tackle issues such as cyberbullying, underage use of restricted sites and unhealthy screen time. He wrote: "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."

"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."

Hunt appears to be making the argument that tech companies ought to be ensuring that children are not misusing the website. This is opposed to leaving it up to their parents- a major step in terms of child safeguarding, which previously concerned giving parents greater awareness of the dangers of social media, allowing them to be in charge of their own child’s wellbeing.

Here, we can clearly see a significant shift from the political class as a whole to review the role of social media in our lives. The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal ( galvanised politicians across both sides of the Atlantic to reconsider the impact that social media has, and particularly the business model has, on the general populace. Hunt’s new crusade to “protect the children” will be part of a substantial front to regulate the social media oligopoly of Google, Facebook and Snapchat Inc.

Zuckerberg’s recent hearing before the US Congress raised topical issues, such as whether Facebook is a publisher or a tech company, which have different implications regarding their allowing free speech on the platform. At the moment, Zuckerberg (whilst on his booster seat) is performing an interesting balancing act: on the one hand the posts made on Facebook are the property of the company to sell or store, and on the other hand Facebook does not hold responsibility for the content of that which is posted. Zuckerberg was grilled thoroughly at the testimony hearing as senators posed questions encompassing the users’ right to privacy. A Democrat Congressman posed the question of whether the Federal Trade Commission (a government agency) should be able to determine what is considered personal information to protect it from being exploited. In other words, whether the government should be able to determine what is private or not, and regulate accordingly. However, we must ask ourselves the same thing as the Roman Poet Juvenal, 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' (Who will watch the watchmen?)

Whatever your views on government interference are, it will be playing a larger role in the discussion of social media’s impact on society in the future.

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