A recent story in British newspapers linked the suicide of a 14-year-old boy to social media use. In 2017, a 12-year-old girl in Miami streamed her suicide live on Facebook.
These and similarly tragic tales have boosted an already fervent debate on the links between social media engagement and mental health.
At 2030Plus, we've been reviewing for some years the links between cognitive function and internet involvement. Other, larger research organisations have done likewise. There is little doubt that a growing reliance on digital technology has changed the way our brains work.
Governments are under pressure to act. Last year, the Australian government opened an investigation into Facebook, the largest and, for many, the most troubling of the new media giants.
The company released, without authorisation, data from 300,000 Australian user accounts to the now defunct Cambridge Analytica. Worldwide, Facebook compromised the privacy of 87 million accounts in this way.
Meanwhile, Germany's Federal Cartel Office has looked into punishing Facebook, for gathering data on non-Facebook users, without their knowledge.
In Britain, a government minister has proposed the banning of social media platforms that refuse to remove harmful material from their sites. This on the back of consistent reports about unhealthy or potentially illegal material on YouTube and other platforms.
This sounds laudable, but is the threat of a ban the right approach? After all, huge numbers of people rely on these platforms, as gateways into news gathering and business opportunities, as well as day-to-day communication. Are there more workable starting points?
At the very least, social media companies ought to be treated like drug companies. There are clear links now between social media use and a recognised mental condition known as internet addiction.
Drugs are subject to government regulation. When we use a legal drug, whether it's for our physical or mental health, we can be sure that our government has deemed it safe. The same should apply to social media platforms.
As an immediate starting point, we might take the approach used with film ratings.
In many countries, movies are given ratings by a government-appointed film board, based on their suitability for certain age groups. The distributors must then display the rating at every point of delivery. Why can't that be applied to social media?
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