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Social media, online harms and mental health – what does the evidence say?

Individual cases – such as the tragic death of Molly Russell – have formed part of the larger ongoing discussion around the impact social media has on the experiences and mental health of young people. How best to mitigate the risks of online harms and the idea of regulation of social media platforms has been brought to the forefront of public debate and the Online Safety Bill is also currently passing through the House of Commons.

Good policy on how people can engage online – with the associated benefits – while minimising risk of harm should be guided by the best quality and most up to date evidence. The SMC convened experts in this field who are actively researching these issues to present the latest evidence and answer questions on:

  • What can current research tell us about the role social media can play in the mental health of young people, both positive and negative? What about self harm and suicide specifically? Can online content be deemed objectively ‘helpful’ or ‘harmful’?
  • We hear a lot of discussion and debate around the impacts on children, but what happens when they reach adulthood? Is there sufficient focus beyond young people and the different risks adults may face? What about the longer-term potential impacts of social media use in later life?
  • How well can research deal with such a rapidly changing social media landscape?
  • How do we test interventions and regulation to ensure they reduce harm? Have proposed regulations been adequately tested? Are there any potential risks to proposed regulation of these platforms?
  • What does evidence from the experiences of young people tell us? How does their involvement help guide research?
  • When it comes to media coverage of individual cases, can research provide any advice or guidance on reporting?
  • What is the role of social media platforms within this research field?
  • Currently, what is the best practice in online safety?

 

Speakers included:

Dr Rina Dutta, Reader in Suicidology and Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (IoPPN)

Prof Ann John, Professor of Health Data Science and Personal Chair in Public Health and Psychiatry, Swansea University

Prof Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Dr Lucy Biddle, Associate Professor in Qualitative Mental Health Research, University of Bristol

Jacqui Morrissey, Assistant Director, Research & Influencing, Samaritans

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