March 2024

Smartphones for under-16s – an MRF perspective

The recent news agenda has seen a debate about children’s access to smartphones, including campaigns for age limits on their usage and stricter controls on access to social media apps.

Among those calling for increased safety online is Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Grey, who has called for mobile phones to be made available without social media apps for under 16s and for software linked to their parents’ phones, to flag concerning keywords and searches.

While it is vital to focus attention to the online risks children face, the Molly Rose Foundation (MRF) thinks there are better ways to separate children and young people from online harms and believes that the next Government must be in no doubt that the public wants politicians to take the side of children, not industry lobbyists, when it comes to Internet safety.

MRF Chair of Trustees Ian Russell said: “While harms remain online, the simple reality is that children will continue to be exposed to preventable risk day and night until we address the fundamental product safety failings of tech platforms that are dangerous-by-design.

“The best solution to protect young people from mental and physical harm is stronger and more ambitious online safety regulation.

“We urgently need to commit to delivering the right measures that are capable of stopping children and families being exposed to completely avoidable harm.”

MRF spokesperson Andy Burrows added: “We agree with Esther that the social media companies should take more responsibility, particularly for the content they recommend to young people. This is fundamentally a product safety issue and the tech companies must stop monetising misery.

“The new Online Safety Act is the best way to bring about the change we need to protect young people. Ofcom, the regulator, needs to move quickly and be bold in using their new powers. Delayed or weak regulation may cost lives.

“The reality is that children use social media in very different ways to adults. For most young people, social media isn’t just about memes and videos – it’s fundamentally how they communicate.

“Children communicate through snaps and DMs and voice notes, so the idea of telling them to go back to using a brick phone might be a tempting idea, but it’s ultimately deeply flawed… and we certainly should’t punish children for the failures of social media companies to protect them in the first place.”

If you’re struggling just text MRF to 85258 so you can speak to a trained volunteer from Shout, the UK’s Crisis Text Line service

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