Will social media really be banned?
The news of the tragic death of Molly Russell, said to be influenced by the content she saw on social media, has brought a number of issues to the fore around the policing of content online.
It is an unfortunate reminder of what you can find on social media if you’re looking for it, and sometimes when you’re not. It’s also a reminder of the impact certain types of content can have on an impressionable young person.
For many of us, we are connected to social media most of the day; it’s where we find the news, keep in touch with friends, cheer ourselves up with cat gifs, and communicate with our key audiences. We are mostly able to ignore or don’t even notice the toxic trolls and other pond life out there.
Justifiably, this harrowing news has been followed by a desire to solve this problem and protect young people; leading to Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s suggestion that the UK could ban certain social media platforms.
Is this realistic? Would the UK ban or block some social media channels? A few countries do - including China, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria to name a few - although they aren't countries the UK would consider itself as culturally aligned with.
Hancock has previously suggested a law banning under 13s from social media, which seems like a more realistic move. However it would be very difficult to enforce. Especially considering a 13 year old doesn't tend to have many forms of ID. Plus, they are already supposed to be banned, yet last year it was found that half a million under 12s use Facebook.
It seems to me that the digital pandora's box is already open, so we need to focus on improving what young people see on social media, rather than trying to ban it. As bans very rarely work.
The commissioner for children in England has argued for a Digital Ombudsman to ensure that unsuitable content is removed, which seems like a more favourable approach if the social channels can’t effectively police themselves. Although the question remains how do you decide which content is OK and which isn’t?
It should also be said, that social media doesn't only have a negative effect. It's suggested smartphones and social media has resulted in young adults drinking and smoking less, having less sex (teenage pregnancies are dropping rapidly), and being physically safer than ever before.
Social media gives individuals a much greater chance to hear different opinions and understand complex issues, issues that would have left previous generations not knowing where to turn. Here at Senate Media much of the content we produce is geared at explaining complex, and helpful, information on social media. For example, we have worked with the Terrence Higgins Trust over a number of years on their It starts with me campaign, calling on people to test for HIV.
We need to ensure we don't lose the positives the digital space brings by weeding out the negative impacts. At the end of the month, the government is to publish a white paper setting out its demands on social media firms, which includes an instruction for companies to find and remove unsuitable content quickly.
Hopefully this will be a step toward allowing young people to take advantage of the good stuff out there, while avoiding the bad.