Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt thinks social media companies should block under-18s from sending explicit images

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Under-18s should be blocked by social media companies from being able to text sexually explicit images, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Giving evidence to the Commons Health Committee on suicide prevention efforts, Hunt also called for a crackdown on cyber bullying by the technology industry via the introduction of software that can detect when it is happening.

Hunt said social media firms need to do more to combat a culture of online intimidation, and sexual imagery which is impacting negatively on the mental health of young people.

Jeremy Hunt
(Stefan Roussea/PA)

The Health Secretary told MPs: "I think social media companies need to step up to the plate and show us how they can be the solution to the issue of mental ill health amongst teenagers, and not the cause of the problem.

"There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things.

"For example, I just ask myself the simple question as to why it is that you can't prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that's a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract. Because there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted.

Teenage girl using phone
(Chris Radburn/PA)

"I ask myself why we can't identify cyber bullying when it happens on social media platforms by word pattern recognition, and then prevent it happening.

"I think there is a lot of things where social media companies could put options in their software that could reduce the risks associated with social media, and I do think that is something which they should actively peruse in a way that hasn't happened to date."

Members of the Health Committee urged Hunt to put more resources into suicide prevention.