Social media companies are under pressure from ministers to do more to protect children from harmful online content, amid growing concerns over suicide and self-harm among teenagers.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has warned companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter that he will use the law to force them to act should they fail to remove inappropriate content. It followed the death of Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life in 2017.
Her father said he believed Instagram “helped kill my daughter” with the social media account found to contain disturbing material about depression and suicide.
Levels of self-harm have risen by 68 per cent among girls aged 13 to 16 in just three years.
Today Prof Powis, the most senior doctor in the NHS, urged social media providers – and the celebrities who use them to build a following – to stop feeding insecurities.
He said: “Highly influential celebrities are letting down the very people who look up to them by peddling products which are at best ineffective and at worst harmful.
“Social media firms have a duty to stamp out the practice of individuals and companies using their platform to target young people with products known to risk ill health.”
“Our young people are bombarded with ideas, images and advertising which set such a high bar for what they should look and feel like. And yet there is little accountability for the impact this has,” he writes.
“Where celebrities and the platforms which promote them exploit this vulnerability by pushing products like laxative teas, diet pills and other get-thin-quick solutions, they are taking the health of our young people in their hands and should act with far greater responsibility.”