UK digital secretary throws cold water over bid for laws on kids' use of social media

If Matt Hancock says it's a bad idea, it's a really bad idea

UK digi secretary Matt Hancock has rejected the idea of greater government intervention on kids' use of tech – just as The Daily Telegraph launched a campaign calling on politicians to take stronger action.

The Tory-friendly paper has teamed up with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) as well as academics and doctors who believe youngsters are being damaged by their rampant use of social media – and that it is the government's job to prevent this by wielding the legislative stick.

Arguing that social networks are treating child safeguarding as "optional", NSPCC boss Peter Wanless wrote in the paper: "After years of inadequate action I am absolutely adamant that now is the time to introduce statutory regulation on social media sites."

However, Hancock – who has been open about his desire to crack down on tech firms for the content published on their platforms – has already dealt the paper's campaign a bit of a blow by saying he has no plans to legislate on kids' use of social media and other technologies.

"In some places laws are required," he told The Guardian. "In other places, it's just that as a society we have to mature to make the most out of this technology, which is amazing and brilliant, rather than use it badly."

Rather, it seems the MP – famed for the poor privacy and security credentials of his eponymous app – believes it isn't just up to the government to protect children online.

"The parents have a responsibility to ensure that children use technology appropriately. For instance, I allow my children to do their homework online, but I don't let them on to social media," Hancock said.

"They don't have access to the devices. They don't have phones. Why do they need phones? They're children, they're 11."

Of course, that's not to say that the government won't end up legislating on kids' use of the internet as it looks to clamp down on tech firms more broadly. And public support for policies that ostensibly make their kids safer could easily sway politicians looking for votes – even if those policies are nigh-on impossible to implement in practice.

The government's insistence on age checks for online porn is a good example of how a desire to "think of the children" can outweigh opposing legitimate ethical and technical arguments.

Hancock's comments came at the start of London Tech Week so you can expect him to be expressing more of the digital fanboi side of his persona over the next few days. ®

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