By Maisie Marston
Social media companies currently operate in what has been dubbed “an online wild west” by Chris Elmore MP, a lawless sphere without any regulation and accountability. With MPs even suggesting social media could be classed as a disease, they have suggested a series of new precautions to protect children and young people from the dangers associated with social media.
In the same way that MPs want companies like Facebook to take responsibility for disinformation or ‘fake news,’ they now demand change in the way the industry seeks to protect children and young people who use their sites. This comes as no surprise after the discovery of the distressing social media accounts of 14 year old Molly Russell, the young teen who took her own life. After seeing the distressing material exposed to his daughter online, Molly’s father said that he had “no doubt that Instagram helped kill [his] daughter”. Whilst the report published by the Royal Society for Public Health accepts that there is still not much strong scientific evidence linking the use of social media and mental health problems in young people, it is clear that social media has been used to publicise and glamourise methods of self harm and suicide.
Action has already been taken to ensure children are safe and healthy by the UK’s chief medical officers. In February they recommended a series of steps for parents including keeping devices out of the bedroom at bedtime and encouraging parents to police their own use of devices. More recently, in the Royal Society for Public Health’s report, recommendations have included a suggested tax of 0.5% on social media companies’ profits in order to create a Social Media Health Alliance. This alliance would fund research in order to fund research and produce better guidance for the public, reviewing the “growing evidence on the impact of social media on health and wellbeing”.
Within the next few weeks, the government is expected to publish its own proposals in a White Paper from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. These will be informed by the inquiry carried out by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. Whereas previously social media companies have regulated their users by limply insisting on a 13+ age limit, they could now be forced to police their younger populations much more rigorously or face legal consequences.