Social media sites should face fines if they fail to protect children and young people from adult and harmful content, the head of the NSPCC has said.
Peter Wanless called on the next government to place sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Askfm under "robust scrutiny" from a new watchdog "with bite" to ensure they shield children from pornography, violent content, child abusers and online bullying.
Just as films and television are regulated, so too should the sites where many children spend hours browsing and communicating with others, said Mr Wanless (pictured), the charity's chief executive.
He issued the demands after a survey by the NSPCC found four in five youngsters felt social media companies needed to do more to protect them while using their services.
In a letter to The Times, he said it was time for the Government to take "bold action to hold internet companies to account".
"Online safety is one of the biggest issues for children and young people today and one that the Government must tackle head on," he wrote.
"It is high time for online companies to come under robust scrutiny from an independent regulator with bite and to face fines when they fail to keep children safe."
On Thursday MPs passed the Digital Economy Bill, which includes a code of conduct for social media giants to tackle illicit material.
The Government is reportedly considering fining companies who do not comply with the code.
Mr Wanless said whichever party wins the election should adopt the same approach to regulating sites as the film watchdog, the British Board of Film Classification, and Ofcom, which regulates television and radio broadcasts.
Like films, television series box sets and games, sites should carry age ratings to reflect their content, he said.
Mr Wanless also called on social media sites to offer specially designed accounts to protect youngsters with default privacy settings, content filters and guards against "groomers".
"We already protect children from viewing inappropriate or violent content at the cinema and on television," he said
"Given that today's children spend their free time online, why do we not afford them the same protections in this sphere?"
The NSPCC conducted a study as part of the its Net Aware initiative to inform parents of the risks and issues with sites their children are using.
Of the 1,696 11- to 18-year-olds who took part, 1,380 said social media sites needed to do more to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content.
The social networks Facebook and Askfm and chat sites Omegle and IMVU were rated the riskiest by children in the study.
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