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30 April 2018
By Rebecca Avery

Inquiry into the Impact of Cyberbullying on Social Media on Children and Young People’s Mental Health Published

Last year, Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, in partnership with YoungMinds and The Children’s Society, set up an inquiry into the impact of cyberbullying on children and young people’s mental health.

A survey, published today was carried out by YoungMinds and The Children’s Society; the inquiry took oral and written evidence from young people – including an online survey of 1,089 young people aged 11-25 – social media companies, mental health experts and children’s charities in order to explore the impact of cyberbullying on children and young people’s mental health. Its panel included cross-party MPs and vlogger Grace Victory, who has spoken out about abuse she has received online.

  • 62% of respondents were under the age of 18;
  • Three-quarters of respondents were female (75%);
  • Almost half of respondents (45%) said that they had experienced a mental health problem in the past.

One 15-year-old girl said:

You kind of expect to experience it: nasty comments on the selfie, Facebook posts and Twitter posts, people screen grabbing your Snapchat story to laugh about it… I feel like it’s something people don’t take seriously. But leaving just one nasty comment could really hurt someone.

Social media companies should take complaints more seriously. If someone reports something, they shouldn’t take days to review it, they should literally just remove it straight away. The reaction from adults is just delete your account to stop the bullying, but that’s taking something away from that young person’s life for something that’s not their fault.

What the survey revealed

  • 61% of young people stated that they had their first accounts at age 12 or under, despite guidelines for social media sites stating that you must be 13 years old to have an account.
  • In total, 44% of the young people surveyed stated that they spend more than three hours per day on social media.
  • One in ten (9%) young people surveyed admitted logging on after midnight every night; one young person said it was “almost like a drug”. Young people giving evidence to the inquiry described feeling judged and inadequate if they didn’t have enough likes or followers.
  • 62% of respondents said that social media had a positive impact on their friendships.
    • However, 38% of young people reported that social media had a negative impact on how they feel about themselves, more than those who reported it having a positive impact (23%).

Experiences of cyberbullying

  • Almost half (47%) of young people surveyed had experienced threatening, intimidating or nasty messages via social media, email or text. 
  • In total, 39% of young people reported having personal experience of online bullying in their lifetime, in contrast to 49% who reported experience of off-line bullying.
  • 27% of young people reported personal experience of online bullying within the last year.
  • In total, 60% of young people reported having seen somebody be harassed or bullied online.
  • An overwhelming majority of young people surveyed (83%) said that social media companies should do more to tackle cyberbullying on social media, whilst only 6% of young people disagreed with this.

What should be done

The report  identified a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure that social media companies play their part – together with Government, schools, families and industry – in creating a digital environment that limits the prevalence of cyberbullying and its negative impacts on children and young people.

The report has made a number of recommendations to social media companies, and to the Government to ensure that the online world is a safe and enjoyable place for children and young people.

Summary of recommendations

  1. The Government requires social media companies to ensure that their platforms are age-appropriate, and that children and young people understand how their data will be used;
  2. Social media companies enable children and young people to understand their rights and responsibilities including their behaviour towards others.
  3. Social media companies provide timely, effective and consistent responses to online bullying
  4. The Government improves accountability by requiring social media companies to publish data about their response to reports of online bullying
  5. Social media companies prioritise the promotion of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing across their platforms
  6. The Government commissions additional research into the scale of online bullying, and its impact on children and young people
  7. The Government puts children’s experiences at the heart of internet safety policy development
  8. The Government educates children and young people to be safe and responsible online, and to know how to respond positively to online harms such as cyberbullying.