Digital technology can be a powerful force for social good and can help people to become mentally stronger and more resilient. For example, positive prosocial peer interactions through social media platforms and Internet chatrooms etc. can be really empowering and supportive. However, I do recognise that social media can also be associated with negative outcomes and situations, such as online bullying. We need to ensure that we create a social media world where freedom of expression and creativity work with an ethical focus that promotes mental health. We need to address the fact that technology is outpacing ethics and work very hard to catch-up and educate society about digital autonomy and the choices they have.
We need to ensure that we create a social media world where freedom of expression and creativity work with an ethical focus that promotes mental health. We need to address the fact that technology is outpacing ethics and work very hard to catch-up and educate society about digital autonomy and the choices they have.
At the moment there is little to no regulation of the digital world on mental health and this needs to change. It will be an enormous, multifaceted effort, requiring the cooperation of countries around the world, corporations, care professionals, others in positions of power, and end users. I like to think that we can start with individuals in the first place. We must empower people to make the best choices for themselves and offer them as much personalised care support as possible. Everyone needs to be aware of the effect that social media can have on them and take steps to protect themselves if necessary.
Young people, who are major users of social media, are all too often underestimated. I think Generation Z and millennials are intelligent and receptive to being taught how to learn to discriminate between useful empowering sites and those that will make them feel diminished, unhappy or discriminated against. We should have faith in them to make these choices and also report online spaces where there is inappropriate language or content.
Care givers of children and young people also need to know what is going on in the social media world and aquaint themselves with the sites and blogs that their children are visiting. Care givers should have easy and manageable access to educational material and knowledge to be able to explain to children what Snapchat or Instagram is and how they should use it safely and appropriately.
The huge social media platforms are already taking their responsibilities to their end users much more seriously. Facebook is very open to this type of discussion about ethics and protecting mental health. They could all help more though, for example, by funding research into ethics and looking at how teenagers explore and interact with digital technology. By understanding more about this, we can design ways to give young people a better, more positive experiences.
Social media influencers can also have profound effects on their hundreds of thousands of followers and wider audiences. For example, the brilliant site called The Artidote has arguably saved lives through artistic and mental health exchanges between its followers. Also, the poet Nikita Gill reaches out to her 200,000 Instagram followers daily with her poetry and thoughts about her struggles with her own mental health. People are so drawn to these unofficial, digital care professionals. On the flip side, there are influential people on the internet who do cause harm to the mental health of others, whether intentionally or not. This is a very unregulated ethically grey space that needs debating.
We are never going to be able to fully police the internet – smaller platforms will constantly pop up and social media is always in a state of flux – and it is a fire fighting task to some extent. But we can start with public conversations and expect accountability and transparency from internet providers and others in positions of power. We should also support users to help them make more informed choices online and to take on more responsibility when it comes to protecting and nurturing their own mental health.