Social media platforms are failing to effectively tackle cyber-bullying, a new report claims.
Technology companies were accused of offering a “tokenistic” response to the problem as MPs and leading charities warned that shortcomings are placing youngsters’ mental health at risk.
Cyber-bullying takes a number of forms – including mass “unfollowings”, sharing of embarrassing photos and threatening or intimidating messages, the study found.
It highlighted how children and young people are using social media for hours every day, often across multiple profiles. A survey of 1,089 respondents aged 11 to 25 found almost one in ten admitted logging on after midnight every night.
Describing their views on social media usage in an evidence session, one youngster said “it’s almost like a drug”, while another said: “Nobody really goes out anymore.”
A 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.”
Conservative MP Alex Chalk, who led the inquiry alongside charities The Children’s Society and YoungMinds, said: “Cyber-bullying can devastate young lives, but to date the response from social media companies has been tokenistic and inadequate. It has failed to grip the true scale of the problem. For too long they have been marking their own homework and it’s time they become far more transparent, robust and accountable.”
The paper said: “The evidence relating to the impact that cyber-bullying has on children’s mental health and wellbeing is in its infancy – but we do know that there is emerging evidence that draws links between the two.”
The analysis welcomed positive initiatives adopted by social media firms to tackle abusive content, such as the use of algorithms. It also called on the government to require platforms to publish data about their response to reported episodes of bullying.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The inquiry has heard from young people describing cyber-bullying as ‘inescapable’ and in the most extreme cases it has pushed some to the verge of suicide.”
Sarah Brennan of YoungMinds said the inquiry “has shown loud and clear that it’s time social media companies sit up and take action”.