Britainâ€™s health minister Jeremy Hunt has threatened to impose new regulations on Facebook and other social media firms unless they do more to protect young people using their services.
Hunt said the groups were â€œturning a blind eyeâ€ to the effect social media has on childrenâ€™s well-being â€“ an accusation that comes as Facebook and others face heightened scrutiny worldwide over their impact and influence.
As of January this year, there were about 9.4 million users of Facebook that fall in the age bracket of 13-24 in the UK alone. The bulk of the users, 19.7 million, are in the age bracket of 25-44.
Googleâ€™s UK operation said it was committed to protecting children and introduced features to help parents set screen time limits. There was no immediate comment from Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other firms.
Hunt did not say what kind of regulations the government could impose, but gave the companies an April deadline to come up with measures to tackle cyber bullying and control the amount of time youngsters spent online.
â€œI am concerned that your companies seem content with a situation where thousands of users breach your own terms and conditions on the minimum user age,â€ Hunt said in a letter sent to tech firms and reported in the Sunday Times.
â€œI fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side effects of social media prematurely.â€
In an article in the same newspaper, Hunt said there had been a few welcome moves to improve childrenâ€™s online protection, but the overall response has been â€œextremely limitedâ€ and a voluntary approach might not be enough.
â€œAn industry that boasts some of the brightest minds and biggest budgets should have been able to rise to the challenge,â€ he added.
Huntâ€™s comments came alongside the announcement of a government review of the impact that sites like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have on childrenâ€™s mental health.
Britain has clashed with internet companies on several fronts in recent years over payment of taxes, action against the spread of fake news and extremist material, and their use of personal data.
Google UKâ€™s Public Policy Manager, Katie Oâ€™Donovan, said the company has also introduced an online safety course for children.
â€œAlong with all parents, we understand the challenge of helping children make the most of the internet in a safe and responsible way,â€ she added.