A ban on the use of social media by under-16s has been branded “speculation” – but the Government must “continue to look at” the need to protect children, a minister has said.
Science Minister Andrew Griffith dismissed as “speculation” reports that access to social media could be restricted for some young people as part of a “potential consultation” on the issue.
Ministers have reportedly discussed the impact sites such as TikTok and Instagram have on young people’s wellbeing, and that under future plans they may be forced to seek their parents’ permission before using the social networks.
Asked by Sky News whether such proposals could ever be enforced, Mr Griffith said: “Well, we’re talking about speculation.”
He said the government had already passed the Online Safety Act that “ensures that the activities that are illegal offline are now also illegal online”.
However, he went on to say that there were “real harms” to social media alongside the “good things”.
“As a parent myself, I understand that parents feel very strongly about the need to protect our children from some of the ills of society that have previously run rampant on social media,” he said.
“We’ve already taken action and it’s right that we’re continuing to look at it. I don’t think you’re ever going to say that job is done.
“So the speculation is about a potential consultation in the new year.”
Pushed on whether a consultation was taking place, he said: “I don’t think any of us know what’s going on and I’m not going to comment on future consultations at this time.”
The Online Security Act became law in October and aims to make the UK “the safest place in the world to be online”.
The law also aims to hold platforms accountable for illegal content such as images of child sexual abuse, make adult websites properly enforce age limits and prevent minors from being able to create social media accounts.
Media regulator Ofcom is responsible for enforcing the new rules, with companies liable for fines of up to £18m. or 10% of their annual global revenue for non-compliance – whichever is greater.
Firms and senior managers can also be held criminally liable if they are found not to be doing enough to protect children, while platforms can also be completely blocked from operating in the UK in the most extreme cases.