Social media firms must do more to tackle cyber-bullying, report warns

Social media platforms are failing to effectively tackle cyber-bullying, a new report claims.

Technology companies were accused of offering a "tokenistic" response to the problem as MPs and leading charities warned shortcomings are placing youngsters' mental health at risk.

Cyber-bullying takes a number of forms - including mass "unfollowings", sharing of embarrassing photos and threatening, intimidating or nasty messages, the study found.

It highlighted how children and young people are using social media for hours every day, often across multiple profiles.

A survey of 1,089 respondents aged 11 to 25 found almost one in 10 admitted logging on after midnight every night.

Describing their views on social media usage in an evidence session, one youngster said "it's almost like a drug", while another said: "Nobody really goes out anymore."

A 15-year-old-girl said: "You kind of expect to experience it: nasty comments on the selfie, Facebook posts and Twitter posts, people screen-grabbing your Snapchat story to laugh about it ... I feel like it's something people don't take seriously."

Conservative MP Alex Chalk, who led the inquiry alongside charities The Children's Society and YoungMinds, said: "Cyber-bullying can devastate young lives, but to date the response from social media companies has been tokenistic and inadequate.

"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."

The report found:

- Three in five (61%) young people had a first social media account aged 12 or under, according to the survey

- More than a third (38%) of those polled reported that social media has a negative impact on how they feel about themselves, while 23% said it has a positive effect

- Young people who gave evidence to the inquiry described feeling inadequate if they didn't have enough likes or followers

The paper said: "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 analysis welcomed positive initiatives adopted by social media firms to tackle abusive content, such as the use of algorithms.

It also called on the Government to require platforms to publish data about their response to reported episodes of bullying.

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."

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".

Snapchat told the inquiry any content found to violate its guidelines is removed and may lead to the termination of an account.

The company's owner Snap said it does not tolerate harassment and bullying and provides effective ways for users to block and report offenders in the app.

Twitter's rules state: "In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we prohibit behaviour that crosses the line into abuse, including behaviour that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user's voice."

In evidence to the inquiry, Facebook said it has a "particular focus" on anti-bullying measures and takes extra precautions for teenagers.

The company said: "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."

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."

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