Stirling MP Backs Campaign to Protect Children from Smartphone Harms

Published:

Categories: Constituency, Safer Communities

Alyn Smith Outlines Case for Action in Westminster Debate

Local Stirling MP Alyn Smith has urged the UK Government to take swift action to protect children and young people from the harmful impact of smartphones, as grassroots campaign groups step up their efforts to see effective change.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, Mr Smith shared his shock at figures reported by Ofcom, the online safety regulator, in February 2024:

  • 99% of children spend time online.
  • nine in 10 children own a mobile phone by the time they reach the age of 11.
  • three-quarters of social media users aged between eight and 17 have their own account or profile on at least one of the large platforms.
  • despite most platforms having a minimum age of 13, six in 10 children aged 8 to 12 who use them are signed up with their own profile.
  • almost three-quarters of teenagers between age 13 and 17 have encountered one or more potential harms online.
  • three in five secondary school-aged children have been contacted online in a way that potentially made them feel uncomfortable.
  • there is a “blurred boundary between the lives children lead online and the ‘real world’”.

Speaking in the debate, Mr Smith emphasised the real widespread harms caused by smartphones and social media usage, as well as the concerning rise of ‘sextortion’ cases – as in the case of 16-year-old Murray Dowey of Dunblane who tragically took his own life after scammers targeted him via social media.

Alyn Smith MP said:

‘Whether it’s at home or in the classroom, smartphones are everywhere and have become an integral part of modern life. But tech companies have built apps and social media services to be as addictive as possible, and the pervasiveness of these in the lives of our children and young people are causing untold harms to physical, mental and social wellbeing and development. And as we saw in the tragic case of Murray, these dangers and criminals do not respect borders. They require concerted effort across the international community to tackle head on, and protect our children and young people.

‘Time and time again we see cases of online bullying, sextortion, exposure to pornographic and violent content, and insidious algorithms serving up goodness knows what from bad actors and propagandists alike.

‘It’s time for a reset in our relationship with smartphones and social media – and that must begin with our children and young people. If we’re to tackle spiralling mental health, plunging physical and emotional wellbeing, and increasing exposure to inappropriate and sometimes criminal content, tech companies must comply with the letter and spirit of the law. I urge the UK Government to do its part to ensure compliance, to take the fight to online criminals by working with other state governments – and protect the next generation from these egregious harms.’

Notes:

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2024/our-proposed-measures-to-improve-childrens-online-safety

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cdp-2024-0103