This week the Government published an Online Harms White Paper setting out legislative and non-legislative measures to make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other potentially vulnerable groups.
The White Paper proposes that social media companies must be subject to a formal legal duty of care to their users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. Companies will be held to account for tackling a comprehensive set of online harms, ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviours which are harmful but not necessarily illegal.
In our 2017 report, Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues, we found links between the growth of appearance anxiety amongst young people and an increase in the use of social media. We recommended that social media providers – as part of their social corporate responsibility – should collaborate to fund an independent programme of work in this area, and commit to taking action in response to the findings, in order to ensure users are protected from avoidable harm. But there has been little response from social media companies.
We remain very concerned about the harmful influence of online content that promotes unrealistic body ideals and contributes to appearance anxiety, and we welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing a regulator with the power to take effective actions against companies that aren’t meeting their duty of care. We will be echoing this in our response to the consultation on the White Paper, which is open until 1st July 2019.