The always-on, always-interacting online world can take its toll on all of us. But in recent years the problem seems to have hit many young people the hardest.
Social media is a part of everyday life these days. While it definitely does have its benefits – like increased opportunity for social interaction and a free space for self-expression – there are also plenty of downsides. Evidence suggests that the constant pressures of social media have contributed to a rise in mental health issues among young people, with 38% of 11 to 25-year-olds saying that social media has had a negative impact on the way they see themselves.
The reasons why social media has such damaging potential is still relatively unknown and under-researched. So far, the only objective data available is focused on the amount of time young people spend on social media.
But the Royal College of Psychiatrists has published a report which demands change. In the report, the organisation calls for big technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share data on how their younger users are using the platforms. The data, which would be anonymous, would be used by researchers to help doctors and mental health professionals understand “both the benefits and risks of social media use”.
Such calls for more rigorous, in-depth research have been stepped-up in recent years. The tragic death by suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017 was a wake-up call for many people as to the hidden dangers social media can pose to vulnerable young people. Molly, who was suffering from depression, was found to have been looking at “bleak depressive material” and graphic images of self-harm before she died.
Molly’s father Ian Russell believes that unchecked algorithms pushed more and more of this sort of content on his daughter, contributing to her state of mind when she was at her most vulnerable. He set up the Molly Rose Foundation in his daughter’s memory and has campaigned against social media harm since her death.
Speaking out in support of the reforms, he said that “without research using data from social media companies, we will never know how content can lead our children and young people to self-harm or, in the most tragic cases, take their own lives”. Other common issues reported by young social media users include the prevalence of cyberbullying, body image issues brought about by comparison, and stress brought on by likes and comments.
Thankfully though, this report proves that progress is being made, with pressure being put on social media companies to take responsibility for the safeguarding of their vulnerable users. By sharing their data, the companies can provide experts with an understanding of how exactly social media impacts mental health and what can be done to mitigate the harmful effects. Even better, it has also been proposed that the tech companies in question be made to pay a tax that would help fund this vital research.
Let’s hope the recommendations and demands outlined in the report are implemented, fast.