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The power of social media and the harm it can cause

We have written – more than once in the past – about social media, and its impact upon our children’s mental health. It is a topic that troubles us a great deal here, hence our repeated posts. For all our musings on the matter, the surface has been but scratched.

That much has been made clear and the issues underlined again and again in recent times, with Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, leading the charge – prompting a slew of headlines that must have made for uncomfortable reading in California.

Last week, Ms Haugen told MPs in London that Facebook is ‘unquestionably making hate worse,’ before turning her sights on Instagram, and the damage being done to those who are vulnerable and young.

Instagram (which is, let’s not forget, a Facebook-owned company) is, Ms Haugen said, ‘more dangerous than other forms of social media’, with children and teenagers at particular risk.

“Instagram is about social comparison and about bodies… [and] people’s lifestyles and that’s what ends up being worse for kids,” she told the Online Safety Bill committee in Westminster.

Ms Haugen claimed Facebook’s own research had referred to one issue raised as an ‘addict’s narrative’ –  meaning that children are unhappy, unable to control their social media use, and powerless to switch off and escape its ever-stronger grip.

She went on to compare Facebook to cigarettes, and social media companies to tobacco firms – putting profits before people and ignoring issues that are understood all too well by those with the power to make the changes that are so obviously needed.

Leaked documents have revealed that internal research found 30% of teenage girls believe Instagram exacerbates problems surrounding body image and confidence. Still, though, the problems persist. Still the damage is being done.

Last week, Facebook underwent a rebrand, meaning Meta is to be its moniker moving forward.

New name, same old story. These are issues that require more than marketing to address and overcome. Last month, a ‘global alliance of child protection experts’ – including the NSPCC – sent a joint letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, detailing their concerns. 

One suspects they’re not holding their breath or awaiting an immediate answer.

Such issues are not exclusive to Instagram and Facebook. Last month, the Guardian revealed research showing that ‘harmful pro-anorexia hashtags’ could still be searched for and found on TikTok, posing obvious risks to those prone to eating disorders.

Self-harm, meanwhile, is never far from the surface either, as underlined in no uncertain terms in a powerful piece that was published in The Telegraph at the weekend.

In the article in question, Claudia Collins wrote that ‘self-harm is not just prominent on social media, it is revered’ and that TikTok’ s algorithm ‘pushes young teenagers down a rabbit hole of constant anxiety and uncertainty.’ 

‘It becomes harder and harder to escape this online bubble,’ Claudia added. To put her thoughts into perspective, Claudia is 14-years-old. Right at the forefront. Right in the firing line.

That Claudia’s father is Damian Collins, prominent amongst the MPs leading the fight against the social media companies, means that she has support and understanding to call upon. 

Not all are so fortunate; isolation is a common scenario.

Molly Russell, who was also 14 when she took her life in 2017, is referenced more than once in Claudia’s insightful narrative. 

‘With poor mental health at its highest ever level, social media will fuel the genocide of my generation,’ she writes. It is powerful and it is poignant. For parents, it is recommended reading.

So to close, a question and a statement.

‘At fourteen, who is looking after us?’ asks Claudia, who sums things up rather succinctly. ‘As a fourteen-year-old girl, I don’t want this to become my brave new world.’

It is this short sentence that has prompted another post, and this that means that our campaigning continues. For all our musings on the matter, the surface has been but scratched. The fight goes on.