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expert reaction to Government’s response to S&T Committee report on impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health

Reactions to the Governments response to S&T Committee report on the Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health, published in January 2019


Prof Andrew Przybylski, Associate Professor and Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said:

“The government’s response to the science and technology report on social media is an interesting document. 

“The main strength of the response is a clear call for robust scientific research. The government is right in acknowledging the existing evidence base is low quality and that independent scientists need access to industry data. Until this access is granted we will not know how social media or screen influences young people.

“The main weakness of this response is its focus on ‘online harms’ a concept that’s not properly defined or scientifically supported. I’m worried that it will distract us from the most pressuring questions of how technology is effecting our health and society.”


Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

“Children and young people are the test pilots when it comes to navigating their way through the digital landscape, with today’s parents and carers trying to guide them through safely.

“There are many pros and cons to social media and we as paediatricians welcome the Government’s commitment to help protect children and young people from online dangers such as grooming, cyber bullying and sexting. We are particularly pleased with the proposed regulatory framework and duty of care that will require companies to take necessary steps in protecting all users from these types of harm. We are also pleased to see children and young people themselves being made aware of harms through compulsory Relationships Education in primary school and Relationships and Sex Education in Secondary school. However, in other areas, the Government’s response doesn’t quite go far enough.

“There is very little high quality research available on the impact digital media has on the health and wellbeing of children and young people. As a College, we support the very sensible recommendations made by the Committee in relation to this and whilst the Government has acknowledged the issue, we feel it must go further. Firstly, there are no clear timescales as to when the regulator will be in post, as recommended in the Science and Technology Committee’s report. Secondly, data release should not be a voluntary or an ad-hoc action. As researchers and doctors, we are increasingly being called upon to support or advise parents and patients to navigate screen use. We can only do this with high quality research. Therefore the Government must ensure all social media companies – with appropriate safeguards – release their data for research purposes.

“Parents and professionals should look to the RCPCH’s Screen Time Guidance for advice on screen use in childhood and adolescence.”

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