I have spent the past month going “cold turkey” on social media as part of the Royal Society for Public Health’s #scrollfreeseptember campaign. While I find my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages useful ways to keep my constituents up to date with what I have been up to, I have a love-hate relationship with social media, particularly when people use it to criticise and abuse with little or no regard for the person it is directed at. Since the 2017 General Election, I have taken a more proactive approach, removing all comments on Facebook and blocking persistent offenders as I realised I didn’t want people who are genuinely interested in finding out what I have been doing, including those children who come and do work experience in my office, to read it.
According to the Royal Society for Public Health’s “Status of Mind” report, 91 per cent of 16-24 year olds now use the internet for social networking. The internet undoubtedly provides access to a world of new information and points of views. Yet it also exposes young people to genuine harm. Addiction is becoming a very real problem. It is our duty to protect and educate children about the dangers of the internet.
The Government has been working closely with experts, social media companies, tech firms, charities and young people as it rolls out its Internet Safety Strategy. It is hoped that, by introducing an enhanced code of practice, an industry-wide levy and an annual internet safety transparency report, social media companies will take more cohesive steps to address bullying, intimidating or humiliating online content. Earlier this week, the Home Secretary vowed to lead the cross-Government effort in the response to the evolving threat of online child sexual exploitation, including funding for law enforcement, intelligence agencies and a new prevention drive.
As Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing, supporting the Royal Society for Public Health’s #scrollfreeseptember campaign was an easy decision. Taking a step back from social media during September gave me the space to address and evaluate my online presence, and rebuild a healthier, more balanced and resilient relationship with social media.