A parliamentary report suggests that social media firms must do more to protect children and young people online, with MPs calling for a tax on social media companies’ profits.
The report, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing, was compiled based on advice from industry experts, charities, parents and young people across the UK.
The main recommendations contained in the report include the creation of a Social Media Health Alliance, funded through a 0.5% tax on the profits of social media firms. This will lead research on health concerns associated with social media use and develop public guidance.
A review of social media’s addictive nature should also be carried out to establish whether or not it can be classified as an official disease.
Similar discussions on the issue of addiction have been addressed by the DCMS addictive technology inquiry. Earlier this month, the inquiry heard testimony from gaming ‘addicts’ on how they became addicted to video games.
Other recommendations include:
- “Urgently commission” robust research into understanding the impact of social media on young people’s mental wellbeing.
- Establish a “duty of care” on social media companies with registered UK users aged 24 and under, which will be regulated by Ofcom.
Social media’s positive effects were highlighted in the report. However, it also underlined the dangers of cyber-bullying and its impact on young people’s mental health.
Platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook, provide young people with an “opportunity to build and maintain real-world relationships” and can remove physical barriers to social connections, the report found.
Additionally, it provides a “valuable learning resource” to support children’s school work and can be a useful source of health information.
Precautionary measures should still be taken to minimise any psychological harm caused by social media on young people, despite a current lack of evidence pointing toward social media causing mental health problems.
Written evidence from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) said: “There is not enough known currently about how social media affects children and young people. We cannot say for certain that it is possible to develop an entirely positive relationship with social media in the same way that we cannot prove that social media only develops negative repercussions.”
Positive steps are being taken by social media firms to protect children and young people online, the report found.
YouTube’s Trusted Flagger Programme, as an example, is helping to provide “robust tools for individuals, government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are particularly effective at notifying YouTube of content that violates their Community Guidelines”.
Similarly, Facebook has provided users with greater control over what appears in their News Feed while its sister platform, Instagram, has launched tools that aim to “proactively care for the community”.
The report’s publication comes amid a contentious period for social media firms, with Facebook in particular in the crosshairs. The Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand last week was widely broadcast across a host of social media platforms, with the attack itself live-streamed on Facebook.
Over the weekend, Home Secretary Sajid David warned that tech firms must clean up their act and avoid a repeat of this incident in the future.