Following an inquiry which saw over 3,000 young people surveyed, an evidence session with young people, focus groups with students and outreach sessions with parents, the report highlights the benefits and potential risks of social media, and suggests what could be done to protect young users online.
Although the Science and Technology Committee heard from witnesses who stated that social media can have a positive effect, the evidence received pointed towards potential negative effects ranging from damage to sleep patterns and body image, to bullying, grooming and "sexting". The rise of social media, it suggests, has helped to facilitate these risks that existed before these platforms.
The Committee concludes that social media companies must be subject to a legal duty of care to help protect young people's mental health and wellbeing when accessing their sites.
Responding to the Science and Technology Committee’s Impact of Social Media and Screen-use on Young People’s Health report, Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:
For the vast majority of young people, they live in a world where technology forms a staple part of everyday life, and while this needs to be accepted, we all should be mindful of the implications – good and bad – that this can pose. Today’s children and young people are digital natives, and as technology continues to rapidly develop, so too must research on the health implications associated with it.
The Science and Technology Committee’s social media and screen use report is timely, and its recommendations to protect vulnerable users sensible. The creation of a clear regulatory framework that sets out the responsibilities of social media companies towards their users is particularly welcome. But any regulatory system will require careful monitoring as well as meaningful input from the users themselves - children and young people - to ensure it doesn’t stifle open discussion and prevent crucial safety advice reaching its vulnerable users.