Young people want social media firms to do more to prevent cyberbullying, survey finds

Research by the Children's Society and YoungMinds also finds that nearly half of respondents had experienced intimidating or threatening behaviour on social media, email and text platforms

More than eight in 10 young people think social media companies should do more to tackle cyberbullying on their platforms, a new survey says.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of respondents to a survey from the Children’s Society and YoungMinds said they had experienced threatening, intimidating or nasty messages through social media, email or text, and 26 per cent said they had experienced online bullying within the past year.

The poll of about 1,000 young people aged between 11 and 25 was conducted ahead of a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of cyberbullying on the mental health of children and young people. The results of the survey will feed into that inquiry, which is led by Alex Chalk, the Conservative MP for Cheltenham. Chalk chaired a parliamentary debate on the subject in November 2016.

This latest survey comes soon after Girlguiding’s latest Girls’ Attitudes Survey which highlighted young girls’ concerns about the threat to their wellbeing caused by online pressures. Three-quarters of respondents to the survey by YoungMinds and the Children’s Society were female, 46 per cent of whom said that social media had a negative effect on how they felt about themselves, 10 percentage points more than the combined figure for both genders.

The most commonly used social media sites recorded in the survey responses were YouTube (85 per cent), Facebook (82 per cent), Instagram (80 per cent), Snapchat (75 per cent) and WhatsApp (60 per cent), with females more likely to favour photo-sharing platforms. Although they used these platforms in large numbers, many said they were unhappy that their wellbeing was not being protected enough: 82 per cent said they believed social media companies should do more to promote good mental health on their platforms as well as tackle cyberbullying.

Chalk’s inquiry will assess the impact of cyberbullying, examine what social media companies are doing to tackle such behaviour on their platforms and try to work out if the industry is going far enough to protect children and young people on their sites.

Responding to the survey, Chalk called the findings "troubling".

"Social media is a good thing, but there is increasing evidence that prolonged exposure at such a young age carries risks," he said.

"As a society, we are in the foothills of our understanding of the impact of social media on young people's mental health. This robust, evidence-based, inquiry will improve our knowledge and help young people more safely navigate what can feel like a minefield."

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said that although social media was a major part of young people’s everyday lives, it came with a "constant pressure to create a personal brand from a young age".

"Young people must feel safe online, and more needs to be done to prevent and respond to cyberbullying when it happens," she said. "But we’re also excited to see how this inquiry can work with social media companies to find innovative ways to promote mental health among young people, empowering them to understand how to respond to what they see online and cope with the pressures that social media brings."

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said the finding should serve as a warning to the industry.

"Today’s findings reveal the negative impact on the wellbeing of children and young people," he said. "The fact that young people themselves are saying social media giants must do more should be seen as a wake-up call."

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