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The UK health secretary wants to ban sexting for under-18s

Jeremy Hunt has proposed a block on young people who send explicit messages on social media

UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for a ban on under-18s sending sexually explicit messages on social media.

The Conservative MP, who was speaking at a Commons health committee on suicide prevention efforts, accused ‘sexting’ of having a negative impact on young people’s mental health, and contributing to a culture of online intimidation. Despite the age of consent being 16 in the UK, he urged social media companies to block people under the age of 18 from sending these kinds of messages.

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

Hunt also called for a clampdown on cyberbullying, and raised the possibility of software that could detect when it is happening. “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,” he continued. “Because there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted.”

“I ask myself why we can’t identify cyberbullying when it happens on social media platforms by word pattern recognition, and then prevent it happening. I think there are 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 pursue in a way that hasn’t happened to date.”

The proposal comes days after the Tories passed a law banning “unconventional sex” – including spanking, whipping and female ejaculation – from UK porn sites. The contentious decision was defended by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who claimed it would ensure pornography had the same “rules and safeguards” as everyday life.