'A murky area' - Councillor calls out social media giants on mental health impact

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Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017

Online social media platforms can prove problematic if used in the wrong way - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A district councillor has called for social media giants such as Facebook to contribute towards mental health services for young people as online bullying soars.

Lucy Shires, a mental health champion for North Norfolk District Council, has seen an increase in digital bullying during the pandemic.

Miss Shires attended a UK Youth Parliament meeting last week where the potential for social media to become toxic was discussed.

She said that she would like to see social media companies show more social conscience to support young people.

Lucy Shires, Liberal Democrat councillor on North Norfolk District Council. Picture: Lucy Shires

Councillor Lucy Shires, mental health champion for North Norfolk District Council - Credit: Archant

Miss Shires said: "We have to take steps to report abuse and to educate young people so they know what steps are out there for them. Freedom of speech is one thing, but it is a murky area where Facebook can't be policed."

The mental health champion has seen a number of her friends who have disabilities being targeted on online platforms.

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She said: "I have seen comments aimed at them about laziness or entitlement, but they are disabled people having to defend themselves online which is wrong. We should not have any situation where people with disabilities are still having to fight for equality.

"Social media can sometimes be so upsetting for people who are being targeted and it becomes a terrible experience for them."

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Miss Shires has heard from young people that social media can be a positive platform for raising awareness of issues including the climate change emergency, for example, but they can also be at risk to the "darker side" of these platforms.

"It is almost as if people can behave as they want to online and no-one says anything about it," Miss Shires said.

"Someone can go into school and be a completely different person. When a young person sees others behaving online without consequences, it eschews the way they have been raised in schools and at home."

The councillor believes mental health awareness is even more vital right now with anxiety figures soaring during the coronavirus lockdown. She alluded to the issue of the social media "scrolling phenomenon" as people scroll through content as a form of distraction.

Miss Shires also referred to high profile figures such as Marcus Rashford being targeted with abuse despite campaigning for positive change in society. It comes as campaigners have called for an end to thinking a slogan or T-shirt will solve racism.

Last month, football authorities including the FA addressed a letter to Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey and his Facebook counterpart Mark Zuckerberg calling out the "inaction [that] has created the belief in the minds of anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach".

Social media companies have also been criticised for having automated moderation and reviewing tools rather than human reviewers, which can mean abusive content takes too long to be removed.

Commenting on the scale of the platform, Miss Shires said: "Mark Zuckerberg did not think he would create something so momentous at first.

"I think fake accounts can be more distressing when you look at the influence they can have on the way people perceive the world."

Facebook and Twitter allows users to block a person from interacting with them if they are being harassed, and people can also report a page or profile which may be violating community standards.

Users can also add a 'friend' to a restricted list so that person cannot see any posts being shared by that individual. 

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “We do not want hate and abuse on Facebook or Instagram and we will remove it when we find it.

"Between October and December last year we took action on nearly 27 million pieces of hate speech content on Facebook, 97pc of which we found before anyone reported it to us.

"We will continue to work with the police and wider industry to collectively tackle this issue." 

Norfolk has a range of mental health support service including the Wellbeing Service, Norfolk and Waveney Mind, while you can visit NHS Choices for more tips, online tools and general advice about mental wellbeing and mental health.

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