17 May 2019
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced a new partnership between the Samaritans and Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google, YouTube, and Twitter.
In a speech delivered at the Bright Blue and Barnardo’s conference, Mr Hancock indicated that the partners will collaborate and that the involved technology companies will fund research to better understand the health impact of social media, and to identify what more needs to be done to minimise harms to young people online.
This announcement is in line with a key recommendation from the Nuffield Council’s 2017 report, Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues, which calls on the social media industry to collaborate and fund research in order to better understand how social media contributes to appearance anxiety, how this can be minimised, and – importantly – to take action accordingly.
We remain very concerned about the harmful influence of online content that promotes unrealistic body ideals and contributes to appearance anxiety, and we call on Government to include appearance anxiety explicitly within the remit of this research.
In our report, we found links between the growth of appearance anxiety amongst young people and an increase in the use of social media. We also found that there was little evidence in this area to help better understand the nature of this link. We argued that funded, collaborative work across the social media sector falls within their remit of their corporate social responsibilities.
Since our report, there has been little response from social media companies to address these issues meaningfully, so we are hopeful this partnership will start to build an evidence-base on the impact of social media on appearance anxiety, and lead to action being taken.