Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned that social media firms could be banned if they fail to remove from their platforms harmful content promoting suicide and self-harm. The decision came after it emerged that 14-year-old Molly Russell committed suicide in 2017 after viewing disturbing material on Instagram.
Sputnik has discussed the issue with Dr. Karyn Healy, psychologist based at the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland and with Dr. Babak Abedin, Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Sputnik: How does harmful social media content impact on the mind of people, especially that of the most young and vulnerable?
Dr. Karyn Healy: Teenagers are quite vulnerable for many reasons: their brains are still developing, they are particularly susceptible to opinions of peers, and it can be very difficult for parents and teachers to be able to pick up signs of depression.
Very often teenagers are able to hide it very well — and, you know, it certainly doesn’t sound like Molly Russel’s family identified any problems that Molly was having. One of the problems, I guess, with social media sites, and they’re all different, but many of them use these algorithms where, if someone shows an interest in a particular topic, they are more likely to be offered more information about that, and to be directed to different sites that might have more information, to be put in touch with other people who have similar kinds of interest.
So in this kind of way, I guess social media, isn’t neutral: it can really amplify any issues or concerns or questions that teenagers might raise.
And this is a real problem, if we are allowing kids as young as 13 years to be able to access these social media sites. So the social media sites really need to have a similar kind of duty of care that teachers have in schools, and be thinking about how the decisions they make about how their social media sites respond to young people, they need to take into account a duty of care, and think about the mental health impacts that it might have on young people.
Sputnik: Molly isn’t the first teenager to commit suicide over issues and material linked to social media. So why hasn’t the government resorted to the threat of banning such platforms before?
Dr. Karyn Healy: I’m not sure if it’s a simple thing to ban social media sites and, you know, as soon as you ban one, there’ll be another one appearing; but from…
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