Can Social Media be blamed for high teen suicide rates in the UK? | Be Secure Online


Can Social Media be blamed for high teen suicide rates in the UK?

Holly Russell, 14 yr old, Harrow, England

holly russell suicide, instagram, mental health    holly russell, matt hancock, adam mosseri, Instagram
The tragic case of Holly, whose Dad forced UK Govt in action against Instagram

Social Media and the amount of time we spend online has a greater effect on our lives and mental health than we, as adults, can often comprehend.

Our children have an even less understanding of the impact social media, online bullying and instant gratification has on their day to day lives and overall happiness.

Mental health issues such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, lack of human connection, poor memory, problems sleeping, and limited attention spans are issues faced by a large percentage of the world’s population and many believe they can be linked to social media usage.

Shockingly, suicide is the leading cause of teenage deaths in Britain at around 200 per year. And in the past year, our internet safety speakers have come across several suicides in schools which were not reported in the media. After talking to some of the parents and teachers, it’s clear that they blame the involvement of social media.

Here is a link to a platform that has contact details for crisis hotlines throughout the UK  - if you feel or know of anyone feeling like their life has become too much for them, please make contact - you are never alone and suicide is not your only choice!

Suicide amongst Teens in the UK - Internet safety talks

Government takes a stand against Social Media giants

Last week, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced governments plight against teenage suicide and its want to enforce social media giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple to take action when suicidal interest is mentioned or researched on their platforms.

This comes after the death of 14-year-old Holly Russell, who had displayed no sign of suicidal thoughts or behaviours. However, after reviewing her social media accounts it was certain that Holly showed a clear interest in suicide - news which was a complete surprise to her parents.

BBC Interview, A Key moment in social media?

In this interview in early 2019, politicians demonstrated that social media especially Facebook had something to protect and could be called into line. Andrew Marr, BBC journalist interviewed secretary of state Hancock, where clearly told Facebook owners of Instagram to take serious action or legislation would be introduced. Instagram blinked first. But they achieved their main aim, not being legislated. So a 1-1 draw.

    holly russell, matt hancock, adam mosseri, Instagram, andrew marr, bbcBBC host Andrew Marr interviewed Matt Hancock about Holly Russell, Facebook owners of Instagram reacted in 3 days

Mr Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, used the opportunity to remind the various social media platforms of their 'duty of care' to the public. This lead to Adam Mosseri from Facebook Instagram saying they would actively curate self-harm content within three days. 

Facebook Instagram Reaction

  • Facebook reacted for a number of reasons, Instagram is the star product in the portfolio of Facebook, it earns a fortune in advertising, and is the Chairman's pet. Facebook promised previous WhatsApp owners that it would not be used for advertising which makes Instagram even more important to the company. 
  • Britain is the country most likely to enforce real rules on the Industry
  • The threat of action by UK Govt appeared very real to Facebook
  • Social Media are doing everything they can to delay to protect their monopolies
  • Instagram also started deliberately subduing 'likes' on posts (not on the poster side though)
  • Instagram CEO starting positioning Instagram as the happy platform

This demonstrates that these company will act when in their self-interest, and they are capable of editing / curating content even in real-time.  

Are Social Media Platforms responsible?

Social media platforms are often used by teens as places where they can express themselves, seek attention and popularity, and find the information they can usually not obtain offline.

However, although platforms such as Google have made information much easier to access, the information accessed is not always positive or suitable for all age groups. After a simple search, you can find practically anything you would like to find – including information about committing suicide, pornography or how to commit a crime.

The internet has become a place where positive and negative interactions occur – and cyberbullying has become a serious issue amongst teens as the popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp has increased – giving bullies the ability to virtually bully their victims.

Teens are now faced with many social issues and often feel helpless against them. This is where social media platforms need to step in and flag mentions of suicide, cyberbullying and crime.

If they have the power to track our interests, likes and dislikes, and keywords we use to find products and services – then they have the ability to monitor indications of suicidal interest, online bullying and criminal activity.

We ask, why has this not been done yet?

What can parents do to assist their children?

Parents can use parental controls featured in most anti-virus and online protection software to increase internet safety for children. These features include website blocking by type, such as Adult content, weapons, violence, age-appropriate content and time limits per day and per week. Furthermore, parents can prevent kids from overusing YouTube, Fortnite, and Roblox.

Antiviruses that offer these features include F-Secure SAFE

Encouraging healthy internet usage

However, even with parental controls in place, it’s vital that parents help their children understand the importance of healthy internet use. Drastic measures and limited screen time are shown to not to be successful.

Children need to know that they can confide in their parents, school counsellor, and friends about negative thoughts or any negative interactions that they have online.

A new study conducted by Andrew Przybylski from the Oxford Internet Institute found that where kids exceed recommended screen time limits some begin to display higher levels of positive well-being – proving the screen time is not necessarily negative.

His study was based on 20,000 children and his findings exposed the need for parents to create positive online experiences for their children. This can be done by using the internet with them, talking to them about the dangers of the internet and explaining what to do when they experience negativity online.

Furthermore, Przybylski noted that the current screen time limits prescribed by organisations such as the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) are outdated and were prescribed before devices became such intricate parts of our lives.

BeSecureOnline – Internet Safety for Kids and Teens

Keeping children safe online needs to be a joint effort. Social media platforms need to take action when mentions of suicide, cyberbullying and crime are picked up.

At the same time, parents need to engage with their children on topics such as internet safety, online reputation and what to do in times of crisis.

Our internet safety talks for kids and teens include all of these topics and we have had many great reviews from schools and parents.

Our internet safety talks are age-appropriate, fun and interactive. We make sure to present real-life stories to classes – helping them grasp how powerful the internet is and why they should make sure they stay safe.

We have had great reviews from schools and truly believe that by presenting facts in a fun and interactive way both kids and teens feel more informed and are therefore able to make better, healthier decisions online.

To find out more about our internet safety talks for kids or teens, please contact us

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