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Social media pushes kids to the brink

SOCIAL media tech giants had failed to effectively tackle cyber-bullying, offering only “tokenistic” attempts to stamp it out and failing to be accountable, an investigation has found.

According to a UK parliamentary-led probe the shortcomings were putting youngsters’ mental health at risk with more than a third of children reporting a negative impact on how they feel about themselves.

But the platforms including Google, Facebook and Twitter denied the claim and told the inquiry it was taking their responsibilities seriously.

The UK inquiry findings comesas the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission begins its inquiry into how these platforms harvest people’s personal data to push the sale of targeted advertising and content.

More than 1000 respondents in the UK were surveyed and during one evidence session youths described social media as “ almost like a drug” and “nobody really goes out anymore.”

“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 inquiry concluded.

Conservative MP Alex Chalk, who led the inquiry alongside charities The Children’s Society and YoungMinds, said the report was revealing.

“Cyber-bullying can devastate young lives, but to date the response from social media companies has been tokenistic and inadequate,” he said.

“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.”

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 but we’ve also heard about the positives that social media brings for young people.”

In evidence to the inquiry, Facebook said it focused on anti-bullying measures and takes extra precautions for teenagers.

“For example, our anti-bullying policy makes clear we remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them,” the company said.

In written evidence, Google and YouTube said: “We understand the duty we have to ensure our platforms are used responsibly, that users have the tools and knowledge they need to make responsible choices online, and that they are able to flag and report abuse so that it is acted upon.”

YoungMinds chief executive Sarah Brennan said the inquiry “has shown loud and clear that it’s time social media companies sit up and take action to tackle cyber-bullying”.

The inquiry showed children were spending hours each day on social media and described cyber bullying as everything from “unfollowings” to using images and postings to embarrass, threaten and intimidate.

The issue was highlighted in Australia with the death of Northern Territorry teen Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett, once the face of Akubra, who took her own life after online bullying.

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