Something strange is going on in Westminster. Actually, a whole lot of strange things are going on in Westminster, but there’s one in particular that is leaving me concerned.

It’s the way that it appears that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care  Matt Hancock has taken on responsibility for policy around the regulation of social networks.

Now I’m not going to write about the particular issues that seem to have been the stem for this state of affairs, and that’s for very good reason. But the head of the Department for Health wading into issues of internet regulation so deeply leaves me troubled for one (or many) of three reasons:

  1. It’s very clear that responsibility for the regulation of social networks resides in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. There is more than enough work needed to be done in the realm of health policy for this kind of boundary-blurring to not be sensible. And that DCMS seem to be taking a back seat would flag a worrying lack of Digital expertise in the department since someone recently left…
  2. The Secretary of State appears to be regarded by himself and others as some sort of digital guru. The sort of digital guru who tries to apply his digital hammer to every theme whether it’s a digital nail or not. The sort of digital guru who launches a crappy app, or associates himself with a digital healthcare provider that doesn’t seem to necessarily know what it is doing. 
  3. Issues like self-harm and suicide are incredibly complex. Focusing on social media runs a serious risk of over-simplifying and then ignoring underlying systemic issues. You know, like the massive issue of provision of mental health care services across the UK, and particularly for the young. Which very much is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Going off for emergency meetings with Facebook because “Something must be done about this” is PR politics. It’s even less acceptable when it’s being done on the tenuous outskirts of a government department’s portfolio when they have far bigger issues with which to deal.

 

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