Prince Harry speaks out at ‘critical moment’ for children’s online safety

The Duke of Sussex has urged world leaders to prevent social media companies from using children as “digital experiments to make money”, as he supported calls for legislation to rein in tech firms.

Prince Harry said the social media industry makes unbelievable amounts of money by “vacuuming” up time and information from users, adding that children should “demand better”.

“We want all children to feel empowered to speak up and demand change,” he said at the virtual launch of a global child online safety toolkit hosted by UK campaign group the 5Rights Foundation. “We’re at a critical moment where it will take all of us for children to thrive in the digital world.”

Harry said the world needed new digital laws to protect children, such as those being introduced in California, the EU and the UK. In the UK the government is pushing through the online safety bill requiring tech firms to protect children and adults from harmful online content.

“We need new laws. We need public pressure. We need strong leadership,” he said.

The prince also said there should be research into what information companies are hiding behind closed doors, in an apparent reference to the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who revealed last year that the social media company knew its content was causing harm to young users.

Harry added that he and his wife, Meghan, were concerned about their children being part of the “next generation growing up in a world where they are treated as digital experiments for companies to make money and where things like hatred and harm are somehow normalised”.

The prince has criticised social media companies in the past for failing to tackle problems on their platforms. Last year he said “time is running out” for the industry to address misinformation which he believes is a threat to democracies.

Beeban Kidron, chair of 5Rights Foundation, which provides policy guidance on keeping children safe online, said: “Guaranteeing online safety is not just about responding to risks and harms: it means actively designing a digital environment that is safe for every child.

“This toolkit provides lawmakers with everything they need to step up and respond to their obligation to keep children safe online. All the tools are there, so policymakers can put them to use and make child online safety a reality.”

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