Social Media Companies – Take Responsibility and Take Negative Imagery Down #instaNTLY

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By Danny Bowman, Head of Campaigns at Parliament Street

In the last couple of months, we have heard about horrifying stories relating to the relationship between negative imagery shown on social media and young people’s mental health. The vast wilderness of social media has made it an easy place for negative imagery, videos and other content to exist, the negative impact on some of the most vulnerable users duly noted. What is worse, the social media platforms seem to be making so little or no attempt to take them down.

In January we heard about the heart wrenching story of Molly Russell, a 14 year old girl who took her own life partly because of the effects of social media imagery according to her father. The glorification of self-harm, suicide and negative body image on social media is arguably acting as a catalyst to vulnerable users with a disposition to these issues taking turns for the worse. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock at the time warned social media companies to protect children online, but unfortunately social media companies don’t seem to be listening.

Today, Sky News released an article demonstrating that social media companies are still not doing enough to remove negative content on their platforms. The Sky News investigation found it extremely easy to locate a number of videos depicting suicide and self-harm without any warning or barriers to viewing. They simply set up an account and were able to view what they describe as ‘disturbing’ images on Instagram.

It was only a couple of months ago when Instagram apologised by saying they were ‘deeply sorry’ for the case of Molly Russell but denied allowing negative imagery of this kind on their platforms. The simple lack of responsibility and careless nature of Instagram in addressing this issue is flabbergasting.

All of this comes as the all-party parliamentary group on social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing and the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) released a report acknowledging the growing relationship between social media content and young people’s mental health. A number of acknowledgments were made including the effect of social media on vulnerable people, the lack of action of negative imagery and the tactics that are enforced by social media companies to entice individuals back on their platform.

A spokesperson for the RSPH said that there is a need for social media companies to have in place a duty of care to protect young people and, vulnerable people who fall foul to the negative content on social media. In addition, that to stop social media platforms from becoming a ‘lawless digital playground’ further regulation of the platforms would need to come into place.

The reality is that social media companies need to find their moral backbone and remove negative content including self-harm, suicide and body shaming imagery from their websites. They have a fundamental obligation to protect their most vulnerable users and enable a safer, more secure online experience for all. The message is simple for social media companies – Take responsibility and take it down.

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