Navigating the world of social media is a huge challenge for parents of teenagers today, with many feeling completely powerless as to how they can ensure that their children are safe online.
In her new drama, ‘I am Ruth’ which aired on Channel 4 in December, Kate Winslet confronts this problem head on. Winslet plays the mother of a teenage girl, Freya, whose mental health is shattered as she becomes more and more consumed by social media. Freya becomes less communicative, falls behind at school and begins to self-harm.
The drama is difficult to watch but effectively portrays how all-consuming social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are for teenage girls.
Many teenagers feel under constant pressure to post photographs of themselves looking a certain way and doing exciting things. Social media also exposes teenagers to bullying, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and, most worryingly, harmful material such as that relating to suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.
Winslet hopes that the drama will prompt a conversation about how vulnerable children are online.
The government has cranked up its plans to regulate what happens online with the Online Safety Bill. The Bill will make social media companies legally responsible for keeping children and young people safe online. The Bill will protect children by making social media platforms:
- Remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place. This includes removing content promoting self-harm
- Prevent children from accessing harmful and age inappropriate content
- Enforce age limits and age-checking measures
- Ensure the risks and dangers posed to children on the largest social media platforms are more transparent, including by publishing risk assessments, and
- Provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems when they do arise.
Ofcom will have powers to take action against companies which do not follow their new duties. Companies will be fined up to GBP 18 million or ten percent of their annual global turnover, whichever is greater. Criminal action will be taken against senior managers who fail to follow information requests from Ofcom.
In the most extreme cases, with the agreement of the courts, Ofcom will be able to require payment providers, advertisers and internet service providers to stop working with a site, preventing it from generating money or being accessed in the UK.
While this is a big step forward for online safety, there are some that argue that this Bill does not go far enough, that it has already taken an extremely long time to progress and is yet to be enshrined in law. Meanwhile, social media continues to progress and develop and, for many parents, what happens on teenagers’ phones is desperately worrying and these changes cannot remove that fear.
Organisations working with young people also face challenges - social media cannot be ignored as a means of engaging with young people and it has many positive benefits.
But where does any responsibility lie when social media results in abuse? Is the organisation responsible for that?
How organisations protect young people and the organisation itself in this fast moving environment is not an easy challenge to answer but one which cannot be ignored.