A report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists explains that children and adolescents are most at risk from digital technologies.
The report, released on Friday, calls for regulators to urgently establish a protocol allowing social media companies to share data with universities to help researchers understand how young people are impacted by online content.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is also instructing the regulator to establish “a levy on tech companies proportionate to their worldwide turnover,” some of which will be used to fund independent research and training packages for clinicians, teachers and others working with young people and children.
The report follows after 14-year-old Molly Russell took her own life after viewing harmful content online. Her father, Ian Russell, has backed the report and urges tech companies to do more, stating that “I have no doubt that social media helped kill my daughter.”
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, co-author of the report, and chairwoman of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “We will never understand the risks and benefits of social media use unless the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram share their data with researchers.”
“Self-regulation is not working. It is time for Government to step up and take decisive action to hold social media companies to account for escalating harmful content to vulnerable children and young people.”
The report has raised concerns about the privacy of young people and children, with many privacy advocates arguing that despite it being for a good cause, users must have control over what data they want to give away and for what purposes.
Silkie Carlo, Director of the civil rights group Big Brother Watch, argued that young people shouldn’t be made “to feel like lab rats.”
Mentioning the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Carlo added; “At a time when data and privacy rights face significant threats online and trust is low, user control should be recognised as a priority.”
A government spokesman said: “We are developing world-leading plans to make the UK a safer place to be online. This includes a duty of care on online companies, overseen by an independent regulator with tough enforcement powers, to hold them to account.
“The regulator will have the power to require transparency reports from companies outlining what they are doing to protect people online. These reports will be published so parents and children can make informed decisions about their internet use.”
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