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UK government looking into imposing 'time limits' on children using social media

Matt Hancock said it isn’t “beyond the wit of man” to develop an age verification system for children online.

Image: Shutterstock/Andrey_Popov

THE UK CULTURE Secretary has said that the government is looking into imposing limits on the amount of time children can use social media.

In an interview with The Times, Matt Hancock said that there is a “genuine concern” around the amount of time children spend on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The issue of children using technology is just as prevalent in Ireland, at the moment, with the digital age of consent a subject of debate at present.

The digital age of consent is the age at which a person can consent to the terms and conditions of online tech companies and service providers, such as creating an email account of Facebook page.

It has been argued that the age of 13 is too young to fully consent to all of the terms and conditions of various websites, and risks exposing young people to unnecessary risks online.

Hancock said that the UK was looking at introducing a legal requirement for companies to ensure that its users were over 13 years of age.

While children under this age could falsify their date of birth to access a number of social media platforms, Hancock said it is “not beyond the wit of man” to develop an age-verification system for children.

He said: “There is a genuine concern about the amount of screen time young people are clocking up and the negative impact it could have on their lives.

For an adult I wouldn’t want to restrict the amount of time you are on a platform but for different ages it might be right to have different time cut-offs.

Addressing an Oireachtas Committee last month, a number of online experts urged the government not to set a digital age of consent of 13.

Dr. Mary Aiken of UCD’s Geary Institute said that she believes it is only a “matter of time” before Tusla begins dealing with problems of young people being impacted by inappropriate material online.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if a young boy is being exposed to hardcore material as a child then by the time they are 18 they will be damaged,” she said.

Aiken also explained that apps and phones can act “like a giant slot machine” for young people and can be “far more addictive”.

“They’re designed to light up and vibrate and attract your attention. These devices are designed to tap into our psychological Achilles heel,” she said.

With reporting from Rónán Duffy

Read: With ‘vulnerable’ children contacting strangers, government launches ‘internet safety resource’ for schools

Read: It should be ‘frowned upon’ for parents to give young children a smartphone, politicians told

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Sean Murray

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