As a society, I believe we’re now further down the track of “appearance = validation = success” than we ever have been before. There’s certainly a growing concern about the impact it’s having on our nation’s mental health, especially amongst younger people.
A person’s physique can propel fame overnight, aided by reality TV programmes along with social media. In turn, we know heavy social media use is linked to negative wellbeing and low self-esteem, regardless of a young person's mental state, with more girls experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness.
On the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in Parliament that I recently joined, we’re analysing this as part of an inquiry into influencer culture to come up with a series of fit-for-purpose recommendations to the government.
In our inquiry, we are examining the power of influencers on social media and how influencer culture operates. We are also exploring the grey areas of regulation on the promotion of products or services by influencers. Of course, popular personalities online can be a force for good too. That might be by raising awareness for a campaign promoting healthy eating, for example.
Sadly, people are altogether more confident making horrific comments about others whilst hiding behind a screen than in real life. We’re now at a point where the calls for social media companies to do more to prevent hate speech and online abuse are deafening. That’s why the Online Harms Bill will set out that tech platforms will need to do far more to protect children and vulnerable people from being exposed to harmful content. For example, social media sites would have to proactively remove content that validates self-harm for vulnerable users.
The online world can be dangerous and unpleasant. I know that for parents, online safety might be a challenging conversation to have with children. Nobody is suggesting that teenagers should throw away their phones, but there needs to be more awareness of the damaging content that exists. The internet is amazing, we just need to clampdown on dangerous and vile sites and vicious trolls for everyone’s sake.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 10th November 2021 and in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald later in the week.