Government orders chief medical officer to draw up guidelines on social media time limits

Health secretary wants safe time limits which would work in similar way to safe alcohol limits

Some social media apps have taken steps to mitigate fears of addiction by introducing tools which allow users to monitor and restrict their time on the platforms
Some social media apps have taken steps to mitigate fears of addiction by introducing tools which allow users to monitor and restrict their time on the platforms

Britain's chief medical officer has been instructed by health secretary Matt Hancock to draw up official guidelines on time limits for social media use.

Mr Hancock said he was “very worried” as a father by growing evidence of the detrimental effect social media was having on the health of young people.

So he said he had instructed Dame Sally Davies to prepare official guidance on safe time limits, which would work in a similar way to safe alcohol limits.

“I am, as a father, very worried about the growing evidence of the impact of social media on children’s mental health," he told The Observer ahead of the start of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. “Unrestricted use (of social media) by younger children risks being very damaging to their mental health.

“So I have asked the chief medical officer to bring forward formal guidance on its use by children.”

Some social media apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, have recently taken steps to mitigate fears of addiction by introducing tools which allow users to monitor and restrict their time on the platforms.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock invited 14 social media companies to meet with him, and only four turned up

Apple has also released a “screen time” feature which operates in a similar way across the whole of the iPhone.

Meanwhile, public campaigns such as Scroll Free September have been launched to encourage the public to use social media less.

The initiative, from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), asked people to stop using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat during September, or to cut down the amount of time they spend on them.

Almost two-thirds of users polled in July considered taking part in the initiative and many believed giving up social media would have a positive impact on their lives, an RSPH survey found.

Mr Hancock hit out at both platforms, which share an owner, over a lack of policing of their rules on age limits.

“The terms of reference of Facebook and Instagram say you shouldn’t be on it if you are under the age of 13," he said. "But they do nothing to police that. The guidelines for WhatsApp say you shouldn’t be on it unless you’re 16. But again, they don’t lift a finger.”

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