Facebook and Twitter must do more to help people switch off, MPs told

Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp should develop ways to make it easier for people to stop using them, MPs have heard.

Labour’s Ged Killen (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) said he wanted the firms to shift their focus from demanding people’s attention to also helping them switch off.

He added that big technology companies should contribute to a research fund which assesses the impact of their products and services on people, and also promotes “healthy use” of them.

Mr Killen’s remarks came as he voiced concerns over “addictive technology” in a parliamentary debate.

Speaking in Westminster Hall, he said the science on the health effects of technology overuse – including social media and smart phones – is still evolving.

Mr Killen told MPs: “I think the tech companies have a duty of care to the consumers who use their products.

“I welcome Apple’s recent intervention to introduce a screen time function that allows consumers to monitor and restrict their time or their use of certain apps.

“I hope this will be rolled out on a wider basis by other tech companies.

“I hope that social media companies and app creators like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp will stop focusing on developing new ways to demand your attention and push constant notifications at us, and start developing ways that make it easier for us to switch off.”

He added there is more the big technology firms can do to mitigate the “negative effects” of technology and understand it.

Mr Killen said: “In much the same as the gambling industry and alcohol industry contribute funds from their profits to mitigate negative effects of their products, I see no reason why big technology companies could not contribute to some sort of fund that supports research into the health impact of their products and services – and helps to promote healthy use of their technology.

“That could apply to everything from using a smartphone to combating online abuse and bullying.

“I hope this is something the Chancellor would at least be willing to look at further.”

Mr Killen recognised some companies conduct research but insisted independent scrutiny is required.

SNP digital spokeswoman Hannah Bardell offered her support to the idea of ensuring companies “feed in to a fund” for research.

Digital minister Margot James said: “I think it is very important we monitor usage and that we, as (Mr Killen) put in his speech, expect more from technology companies in terms of putting right some of the things which are alleged to have gone wrong.”

Ms James said mobile devices make people feel “compelled” to be connected at any time, adding: “While we’re in no doubt, and we’ve dwelt on the darker side of these devices and platforms during this debate as we are talking about addiction, it is incumbent on us to recognise that there is a great deal of positivity to have come forth from these devices.”

The minister said the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, is reviewing the effect internet use can have on children’s mental health, while Chancellor Philip Hammond has already indicated a digital service tax could be implemented by the UK if there is no international agreement.

TechnologyWeb editor