Statement on Science and Technology Committee’s report on the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health

We welcome the findings and conclusions of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health, particularly that social media companies must be subject to a formal legal duty of care to their users and that they must be willing to share data on the effects of social media use with researchers.

In our 2017 report, Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues, we found links between the growth of appearance anxiety amongst young people and an increase in the use of social media. However, we also found that there was little evidence in this area to help better understand the nature of this link. We argued that social media providers – as part of their social corporate responsibility – should collaborate to fund an independent programme of work in this area. We are pleased to see that the Committee has called on social media companies to share their data with researchers, so that, as a society, we can better understand how social media use can impact mental health and find ways to minimise any harms.

In our response to this inquiry, we suggested that the Government has a responsibility to provide conditions that enable young people to flourish with respect to both their physical and mental health in the context of social media use. A part of this responsibility is to act where others, such as social media companies, have failed to exercise corporate social responsibility. We therefore welcome the recommendation for the establishment an independent, statutory regulator that has the power to take effective actions against companies that aren’t meeting their duty of care.

In our cosmetic procedures report, we also recommended that children have access to evidence-based resources on body image, whether through PHSE (personal, social, health, and economic education) lessons or through other (compulsory) elements of the curriculum. We welcome the Committee’s recommendation that PSHE education be made mandatory for primary and secondary school children in the next parliamentary session and that the PSHE curriculum should deliver an age-appropriate understanding of, and resilience towards, the harms and benefits of the digital world.

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