A call for social media firms to be forced to hand over data to help academics has come from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and is backed by suicide prevention charity Molly Rose Foundation.
A charity set up in the memory of a teenager who committed suicide has backed calls for social media firms to be forced to share information with academics with mental health research.
The report, by the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for social media companies be compelled to hand over data to universities, so that they can carry out independent research into the risks and benefits of social media use.
The measure is being backed by Ian Russell, who set up the Molly Rose Foundation after his teenage daughter Molly Russell took her own life after viewing harmful content online.
“Two years ago Molly’s suicide smashed like a wrecking ball into my family’s life,” said Ian Russell, who has authored the RCP report’s foreword.
“I am in no doubt that the graphic self-harm content and suicide encouraging memes on Molly’s social media feeds helped kill her.
“Without research using data from social media companies we will never know how content can lead our children and young people to self-harm or, in the most tragic cases, take their own lives. The government must enact these calls from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.”
The RCP welcomes a government commitment to set up a regulator through online harms legislation, to protect children and vulnerable adults from digital threats.
The college also welcomes a levy on the UK revenue on social media and search engine firms that is coming into force in April. However it wants further action, with this Digital Services Tax to be applied to the international turnover of social media firms and money raised to be used to fund research and training for clinicians, teachers and other children’s professionals.
“As a psychiatrist working on the frontline, I am seeing more and more children self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of their social media use and online discussions,” sid RCP Child and Adolescent Faculty Chair Dr Bernadka Dubicka, who co-authored the report.
“We will never understand the risks and benefits of social media use unless the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram share their data with researchers. Their research will help shine a light on how young people are interacting with social media, not just how much time they spend online.”
All data collected would be anonymous and look at issues such as type of content viewed and amount of time users spent on social media platforms.
The report acknowledges potential health benefits of social media use in obtaining information about physical and mental wellbeing and accessing support services.
But it is particularly concerned about harmful content leading to vulnerable adults and children, particularly girls, normalising self-harm and discouraging people seeking support from a professional.