[RESEARCH] Quoted in Government Report on Social Media, Screen Use, and Health for @CommonsSTC

In April 2018 I had evidence accepted by the Select Commons Committee, investigating social media/screen use and young people’s health.

Today, the government published it’s report on the Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health (PDF), and I have a small mention:

The report summary says (within the full press release):

Social media and screens have become ubiquitous in the lives of children. Figures produced by Ofcom indicated that 70% of 12–15 year olds have a profile on social media, while the OECD reported in 2015 that 94.8% of 15 year olds in the UK used social media sites before or after school. Social media has undoubtedly connected people around the world and provided unprecedented ways to communicate instantaneously. Yet concerns have been growing about its effects on our wellbeing, and particularly on the physical and mental health of children. With the Government set to legislate on Online Harms in the next parliamentary session, our Report considers:

  • whether the growing use of social media, and screens, among children is healthy or harmful;
  • the evidence base for such claims; and
  • whether any new measures or controls are required.

First and foremost, providing unambiguous answers to our questions was hindered by the limited quantity and quality of academic evidence available. Social media is a relatively new phenomenon and, consequently, there is not yet a well-established body of research in this area examining its effects on children. Similarly, research on screens has tended not to focus on newer devices like smartphones. We found that the majority of published research did not provide a clear indication of causation, but instead indicated a possible correlation between social media/screens and a particular health effect. There was even less focus in published research on exactly who was at risk and if some groups were potentially more vulnerable than others when using screens and social media. Given the Government’s intention to legislate in this area, we are surprised to find that it has not commissioned any new, substantive research to help inform its proposals. We recommend that, as a matter of urgency, the Government should commission research to identify who is at risk of experiencing harm online and on social media, and why, and the longer-term consequences of that exposure on children. We also call on social media companies to make anonymised high-level data available, for research purposes, to bona fide researchers so that a better understanding of social media’s effects on users can be established. The Government should consider what legislation is required to improve researchers’ access to this type of data.

Notwithstanding these limitations, the absence of good academic evidence is not, in itself, evidence that social media and screens have no effect on young people. The potential links between social media, screens and health is an area of concern for parents, carers, teachers and children alike. While we heard about a variety of instances where social media could be a force for good, we also received evidence about some of the potential negative impacts of social media on the health and emotional wellbeing of children. These ranged from detrimental effects on sleep patterns and body image through to cyberbullying, grooming and ‘sexting’. Generally, social media was not the root cause of the risk but helped to facilitate it, while also providing the opportunity for a large degree of amplification. This was particularly apparent in the case of the abuse of children online, via social media. It is imperative that the Government leads the way in ensuring that an effective partnership is in place, across civil society, technology companies, law enforcement agencies, the Government and non-governmental organisations, aimed at ending child sexual exploitation (CSE) and abuse online. We recommend that the Government commissions research to establish its scale and prevalence and then sets itself an ambitious target to halve reported online CSE in two years and all but eliminate it in four years.

Children must, as far as practically possible, be protected from harm when accessing and using social media sites. At present, however, there is a patchwork of regulation and legislation in place, resulting in a “standards lottery” that does little to ensure that children are as safe as possible when they go online, as they are offline. This principle—to protect children from harm when on social media sites—must be enshrined in legislation as social media companies having a ‘duty of care’ towards its users who are under 18. Social media companies must also be far more open and transparent regarding how they operate and particularly how they moderate, review and prioritise content.

To achieve this, the Government should introduce, through new primary legislation, a statutory code of practice for social media companies, to provide consistency on content reporting practices and moderation mechanisms. This should be accompanied by a requirement for social media companies to publish detailed Transparency Reports every six months. Furthermore, when content that is potentially illegal under UK law is reported to a social media company, it should have to review the content, take a decision on whether to remove, block or flag that item (if appropriate), and relay that decision to the individual/organisation reporting it within 24 hours, such as now occurs in Germany. We believe that Ofcom is well-placed to perform the duties of the regulator and recommend that the Government resources Ofcom accordingly.

Finally, the digital literacy and resilience of children, as well as their teachers and parents, must be improved to help safeguard children from risks and harms when using social media. PSHE education must be made mandatory by the Government for primary and secondary school pupils and should deliver an age-appropriate understanding of, and resilience towards, the harms and benefits of the digital world.

I was contacted by BBC Tees to comment on this report, but unfortunately was involved in hospital appointments.

Media & Press Media - Audio

[MEDIA] Staying safe online during the summer hols with @WomanInLondon for @PremierRadio

I had a chat with Maria Rodrigues just before the summer holidays, talking about some of the issues and opportunities that parents might encounter regarding their children and online behaviour. You can listen to the 6.5 minutes here.

Media & Press Media - Audio

[MEDIA] Discussing #Snapchat Streaks with @BBC5Live

Earlier today, I had a chat with Sam Walker (and some other interesting contributors) on Radio 5 Live about Snapchat Streaks. You can read a more general overview of Snapchat here.
Once again, I’d done my prep (and again, if you’re a Facebook friend, can see the thoughts friends put in):

Read around, some@extracts from book & great FB convos re #snapchat streaks on @bbc5live earlier …

A post shared by Bex Lewis (@drbexl) on


[SPEAKER] Experiencing God in a Digital Age #theconvo17

I’m at ‘The Conversation‘ in Canterbury today, in an event hosted by the CofE, asking “How can we change the dominant church culture from ‘conquering and keeping’ to ‘nurturing and releasing’ the children and young people in our midst?”.

I’ve got 20 minutes to put across some ideas about the digital:

Experiencing God in a Digital Age (Children/Young People) from Bex Lewis
Media & Press Media - Audio

[MEDIA] “Schools and parents must work together to protect children online, says Christian social media expert” with @PremierRadio

I had a quick chat with Premier on the News Hour yesterday, regarding this story – which has an interesting set of headlines on: MSN; BBC; Guardian; Telegraph

My thoughts pre-interview were:

  1. Agree need supportive digital environment, but needs govt, schools, parents, youthgroups, social media companies, etc. to all get involved, and definitely not just rely on schools
  2. Why I wrote RCIDA “hoping bad things wouldn’t happen” – need to be informed, get involved, and the centrality of CONVERSATION
  3. Soc med T&C needs to be better, for all age groups. Approve of a digital ombudsman, thought socmed companies should be doing this already. Can social media hide behind the ‘should be 13+ to be on there’, when it’s so clear such large numbers under that age online.
  4. So much media focus on negativity – helps parents feel powerless – e.g. November Ofcom released detailed report, a lot was quite positive, but the headlines weren’t (as this one isn’t either)
  5. Parents fears = inappropriate material (leave alone?), strangers (more often someone known, as has ever been, why conversation important to pick up quickly/be someone they want to talk to), bullying (yes a problem, but almost has become rite of passage) – don’t see solely as an online problem – happening ON the tech rather than (just?) because of it.
  6. Balancing resilience and vulnerability = key.

Comments on the above, which I’d posted on Facebook included:

  • We need to teach discernment alongside resilience. We need to push back against the idea parents can’t do it/aren’t interested (whilst aware is a minority of parents who don’t), and that all responsibility lies with government/schools. Highlight e.g. NSPCC, CEOP materials.
  • Why is e-safety a ‘should be’ important in the curriculum? It already is!
  • Kids need adult free space in order to develop and be allowed to make some mistakes and have good and bad experiences. Whilst younger all interactions are done with guidance, but as older can’t police their every interaction any more than would down youth club, in the park, etc.
  • Analogies for ‘what we did when we were kids’ not necessarily helpful, as it is a different paradigm.

Blog post including full interview here.

The full report is here, the online youth summit I referred to is here, and the event in Canterbury in February is here.