Labour ‘open minded’ to banning smart phones and social media for under 16s
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There has been renewed focus on children’s online safety after comments from Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered transgender teen Brianna - whose sadistic killers watched torture on the dark web and plotted the attack on their mobiles. Esther has called for children under the age of 16 to be blocked from social media, and said parents should be alerted to certain searches.
A Labour spokesperson told NationalWorld that the party was “open minded about what measures might need to be taken”, which she said included banning social media and smart phones.
The spokesperson added: “We’ve been strong on this for a long time and have been pushing the government that far more needs to be done. We think they’ve been far too slow, the period of time it took for the Online Safety Act to come through is one indication of that. We’ll work with campaigners, we’ll work with the companies but more needs to be done.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper previously told NationalWorld that Labour would be taking stronger action against tech platforms to prevent the glorification of knife crime on their sites.
Labour leader Keir Starmer met Esther Ghey in Parliament this afternoon (7 February) at her request to discuss her campaign. He tweeted: “I am utterly in awe of her strength and bravery in the face of such unimaginable grief, as she campaigns to make sure no parent has to go through what she did.
“Labour will work with campaigners and parents like Esther to ensure our children and young people have the mental health support they need. It’s what Brianna and her family deserve.” Esther visited Parliament as the guest of her MP Charlotte Nichols, and was in PMQs when Rishi Sunak made a joke about trans people.
Discussion around children’s access to social media has been a hotly debated subject in recent weeks. Bloomberg reported that the government was considering banning children under 16 for sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, while Tory MP Miriam Cates also called for phones to be banned.
However, not all grieving parents want such tough measures. Hollie Dance and Lisa Kenevan are part of the Bereaved Families for Online Safety, who campaigned for the Online Safety Act.
Lisa, whose son Isaac, 13, tragically died after likely taking part in a choke challenge which was popularised on social media, told NationalWorld: “I think that phones should be adapted for under 16s, with limited content and apps.
“The apps accessible to children under 16 are shocking, and that’s where age verification needs to be stepped up as soon as possible. Children do have a right to privacy, so it is very, very tricky.” She also said that it was important for youngsters to have mobile phones to contact their parents for “peace of mind”.
Hollie, whose son Archie Battersbee, 12, died after a strangulation prank went wrong, agreed that age verification “is a great idea”, but said she was unsure about a total ban. She added: “Since the lockdown a lot of children have become very isolated, I think there’s been a huge rise in anxiety in children so their only form of communication has been their phone.”
The Online Safety Act was passed last year, and Ofcom is currently consulting on its implementation. It means that social media platforms will now be required to ban and rapidly remove illegal content - such as child sex abuse, terrorism, and animal cruelty - and prevent children from seeing "harmful" material such as bullying or self-harm content.
Social media sites will also be required to give adults more control over what they see online, by offering clear and accessible ways for users to filter content and report problems. Those who fail to comply will face fines up to £18 million, or 10% of annual global revenue, meaning potentially billions of pounds for the biggest companies, like Meta and X, formerly Twitter. In the most extreme cases, tech and social media bosses could even face criminal convictions if they do not fulfil their safeguarding duties, with up to two years in prison on the cards.
Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.