Social Media: News - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:19 pm on 11th January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 4:19 pm, 11th January 2018

My Lords, I too warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Kidron on this important debate and on the way she opened it.

I fully acknowledge the considerable benefits of social media and online platforms, but will home in on their role as publishers of online gambling opportunities and pornography and the risks this poses to 11-16 year-olds. A Gambling Commission report published just last month showed that in 2017, 3% of 11-16 year-olds spent their own money on online gambling. This is illegal and should have been prevented by robust age verification checks. I note that 3% also gambled in 2016—thus there was no improvement between 2016 and 2017—and therefore ask the Minister what the Government and the Gambling Commission are doing to address this in 2018. The report also shows that in 2017, 11% of 11 to 16 year-olds played gambling-style social games, which are often free to play and offer no cash prizes, with 73% of these played via apps on smartphones and tablets and 28% playing via Facebook.

Any thought that the industry might get its own house in order voluntarily seems highly questionable given that revelations in the Times that online gambling opportunities were being marketed with children’s cartoons in October have now been followed by revelations in the Guardian just after Christmas about the role of Scientific Games. The article stated:

“Scientific Games, a US firm that has provided FOBTs to Ladbrokes and casino games for several gambling websites, makes a variety of these ‘social games’ available as apps on Facebook. One of its apps features the children’s cartoon characters The Flintstones, while another is themed around the Rapunzel fairytale”.

It is of great concern to me that these apps are so easily accessible to children. The article quoted Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, saying that social games were the “number one risk factor” for children becoming problem gamblers, even if hosted on Facebook rather than a gambling site. Despite this fact, however, gambling games that do not involve money do not meet the definition of gambling in the 2005 Act, and they are not regulated by the Gambling Commission.

I understand that these games may be targeted at those legally able to gamble, but they clearly appeal to children. Indeed, the press release accompanying the Gambling Commission’s report last month said that,

“new technology is providing children with opportunities to experience gambling behaviours through products, such as free-to-play casino games, social media or within some computer games, which do not have the same level of protections or responsible gambling messages as regulated gambling products”.

In this context I ask the Minister, is it not now necessary to amend the Gambling Act 2005 to broaden the remit of the Gambling Commission to deal with gambling games when no money is involved?

Thirdly, social media acts as an advertising forum for gambling adverts for young people. The majority—70%—of 11 to 16 year-olds have seen gambling advertisements on social media, and one in 10—10%—of 11 to 16 year-olds follows gambling companies on social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, so are receiving positive messages about gambling via these sites.

Finally, I highlight the role of social media and online platforms in the publication of pornography which is illegal but does not meet the narrow definition of extreme pornography and is published on a social media site or online platforms, most of the content of which is non-pornographic. Last April the Times reported that non-photographic child sex abuse images were being published on Facebook without age verification. Just a couple of weeks ago, moreover, another Times article showed that paedophiles were using YouTube as a “shop window” to showcase abused children. On that point, when the age verification regulator starts its work in May, will it be able to take action against this illegal content, or will the fact that Facebook and YouTube are not primarily for conveying pornography make it powerless to act? The regulator is powerless to act in this situation, so what are the Government going to do to address this problem with social media and online platforms?