Think tank urges social media sites to address mental health of young people

NHS officials In the UK said that social media platforms can have an “insidious grip” on people’s lives and companies such as Facebook have to face up to their responsibilities.
By Leontina Postelnicu
10:13 AM
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young girls on social media

Tech companies could take further action to address rising concerns over cyberbullying and the impact of social media on the mental health of children and young people, the government has said.

In its response to a report from the Commons education and health select committees joint inquiry scrutinizing the scope of the green paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health, the government said that, while some firms had been “taking steps toward addressing some of these important issues,” it was “disappointed with their overall ambition.”  

A recent report from London-based think-tank Legatum Institute – which was criticized earlier this year for breaching charity regulations after publishing a report on the benefits of free trade after Brexit – said the majority of analyses found the ‘digital world’ and social media in particular to be a major contributor to increasing distress among teenagers, even though, in some cases, it could also “enhance relational skills and social connections.” 

With the announcement of a long-term funding settlement for the NHS in June, mental health is set to be at the core of the new 10-year plan.

Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies is reportedly undertaking a systematic review assessing the impact of technology on children and young people’s mental health, looking at international research, expected to be published next year.

In July, NHS England CEO Simon Stevens told The Telegraph that social media firms had to face up to their responsibilities as these platforms could have an “insidious grip” on children and young people’s lives.

Last year, former Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged Facebook to “stay away from my kids” after the tech giant announced that it was testing Messenger Kids in the US for those aged under 13.

The new Foreign Secretary wrote on Twitter: “Not sure this is the right direction at all. Facebook told me they would come back with ideas to PREVENT underage use of their product, but instead they are actively targeting younger children.”

Statistics show that teenagers spend an average of 18 hours a week on their mobile phones in the UK, with a lot of this time spent on social media.

Earlier this year, Silicon Valley insiders told the BBC’s Panorama program that “designers were driven to create addictive app features by the business models of the big companies that employed them.”

“In order to get the next round of funding, in order to get your stock price up, the amount of time that people spend on your app has to go up,” tech engineer Aza Raskin, who designed the infinite scroll, told the BBC. “So, when you put that much pressure on that one number, you’re going to start trying to invent new ways of getting people to stay hooked.”

Facebook last week announced that it was introducing new functionalities to help people manage the time they spend on Facebook and Instagram through an activity dashboard, a daily reminder and a new tool to limit notifications.

This article originally appeared on Healthcare IT News sister site the British Journal of Healthcare Computing.