YoungMinds responds to publication of Online Safety Bill

Mental health charity YoungMinds is calling on the Government to force social media companies to take action on the addictive effects of its platforms on young people. The charity found more than a third (34%) of young people want to leave social media sites at least once a week but feel like they can’t.

The research, carried out with 2,000 16-24-year-olds, is published as the Government lays out its proposals for tech companies to clean up their act. The charity is also calling on politicians to involve more young people in the legislative process.

YoungMinds found more than a fifth of young people (22%) are automatically shown distressing content by social media platforms, based on their previous online activity, at least once a week.

The research, which was carried out with young people with and without mental health problems, also revealed that many find social media helpful for their mental wellbeing.

The vast majority of young people use social media to talk about mental health, with one in three doing so every week or every day. Six in ten (58%) said they take part in supportive conversations about mental health at least once a month, and a third (33%) said they did this at least once a week.

“It is completely unacceptable that young people are routinely shown harmful content and feel trapped on social media sites, so we are glad that the Government has published plans to force tech companies to step up their responsibilities to younger users. However we are deeply disappointed that an overarching duty to protect young people from the impact of features like addictive algorithms has not been included. We want young people to feel empowered through their online experiences and to be able use these platforms in a way that works for them.

“We are also concerned that young people’s views have not been given significant enough weight in this process and this must urgently be addressed as the Bill progresses. Young people tell us they want the Government to listen to their experiences online. We need to know more about what young people find distressing, as well as the positive parts of social media that they want to protect.

“It is indisputable that social media impacts young people’s mental health and they want it to be easier to leave these sites, so companies do not need to wait for this legislation to take action now to make these platforms safer. There is no excuse to delay. ”
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds
“It’s social media companies that are causing the problem so if they actually cared, they would do something to actually discourage you from it. They’ve got all of these people like working for them to understand psychology and know what the scrolling experience is like; they are building the sites in such a way to make it something that people want to do, so they could just work at the other way but they choose not to.”
Charlie, 23 (they/them), who is helping shape YoungMinds’ work on the legislation