UK to restrict children’s social media access – Bloomberg — RT World News

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The new ban includes requirements for parents of minors to give their permission to use the platform

British people below the age of 16 may be barred from using social media to protect their mental health under internet safety legislation proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing insider sources. 

A blanket ban on young teens accessing platforms such as TikTok, Twitch, and Snap is among the strictest proposals under consideration by ministers looking to gather evidence about how these platforms could potentially harm children, ahead of a consultation planned for January, the sources said. 

The notion of a ban has proven controversial among the experts behind the UK’s Online Safety Act, several of whom described it as counterproductive in comments to reporters.

“The whole point of the Online Safety Act is to try and make platforms like social media platforms safe for children,” former Facebook executive Lord Allan of Hallam, who advised on the legislation, told The Times.

“What’s all that effort for if the alternative is to say, ‘well, they just can’t go on it at all’. It’s a completely different strategy from the one that the government has been marching down and investing massively in the last two years,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Sunak’s office played down the proposed ban, telling the outlet that the work is still in its early stages and no final decisions have been made. “We are looking broadly at this issue of keeping children safe online,” she stressed. Sources told Bloomberg the option had “not been ruled out,” however.

Ministers are “looking at ways to empower parents, rather than crack down on anything in particular,” another government source stated, highlighting a “gap in research” that merits further exploration rather than the blunt instrument of prohibition.

In October, the UK passed the Online Safety Act, requiring social media platforms to prevent and rapidly remove illegal content including terrorism and revenge porn or face penalties up to £17 million ($22 million) or 10% of global annual revenue. The legislation also requires social media platforms to adopt age verification technology to prevent access by children who might otherwise be exposed to illegal or harmful content. 

An Ofcom report published on Thursday found that TikTok was overstating its success in protecting youthful users from harmful content, noting that the company still relied on children to accurately state their age when signing up, as opposed to verifying it independently. 

The UK has witnessed a marked increase in mental illness among young people over the past decade, with one in five children and young adults aged 8 to 25 now diagnosable with a probable mental disorder, according to The Times. Social media use in particular has been associated with a greater likelihood of smoking, drinking, drug use, and poor mental health, though researchers have been unable to prove that a cause and effect relationship exists.

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