47% UK teens feel unattractive, 49% financially inadequate, thanks to social media

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on May 21, 2024
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  • According to Invezz research, 93% of teens are actively using social media platforms daily in 2024.
  • Research show that 210 million people globally suffer from addiction to social media.
  • Teens have widespread access to digital devices such as smartphones, laptops, and gaming consoles.

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The European Union is intensifying its scrutiny of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, for allegedly failing to protect children on its platforms.

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The European Commission has launched a formal investigation to determine whether Meta has complied with its obligations under the Digital Services Act (DSA).

This investigation underscores growing concerns about the harmful impact of social media on young users, particularly regarding addictive behaviours encouraged by these platforms.

High daily engagement among teens

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According to Invezz research, a significant 93% of teens are actively using social media platforms daily in 2024.

Instagram, part of Meta’s Family of Apps, is one of the most popular social media platforms globally, with an estimated 1.3 billion users in 2023.

This high level of engagement underscores the urgent need for protective measures.

A recent 2024 survey revealed that 55% of UK teens felt pressured to create the perfect image after using Instagram.

Moreover, 47% felt unattractive, and 49% felt financially inadequate.

Other negative emotions reported included depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts.

This data indicates a strong correlation between Instagram usage and negative self-perception among young users, highlighting the platform’s role in exacerbating mental health issues.

The impact of TikTok on mental health

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TikTok, which has seen rapid growth among Gen Z, had 67% of 18 to 19-year-olds in the United States active on the app in 2022.

Known for its viral pranks and challenges, TikTok has also faced scrutiny for its impact on young users.

In 2021, 11% of teens reported negative effects from participating in online challenges, reflecting the potential dangers posed by the platform’s content.

In March 2022, 15% of teen users experienced anonymous trolling, while another 15% encountered sexualized images.

London-based clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Masters, says,

Keeping young people safe online is a complex but pressing task. In the UK context wherein Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are increasingly stretched, we know that families feel unsupported and unsure of where to turn for support. Safely funded mental health resources are essential in supporting young people to navigate social media and the pressures associated with it.

Data from Statista reveals that social media use significantly impacts teenagers’ mental health.

Among 1,141 respondents aged 13 to 17, 70% felt left out or excluded, 43% deleted posts due to receiving too few likes, 43% felt bad about themselves if their posts received no engagement, and 35% reported experiencing cyberbullying.

Source: Statista

More alarmingly, research from San Diego State University found that teens who use social media for over five hours a day are at a higher risk of self-harm and suicide.

The Digital Services Act and its implications

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The DSA, a comprehensive regulation for online platforms in the EU, mandates that companies implement measures to protect children from accessing inappropriate content and ensure high levels of privacy and safety.

Non-compliance with these regulations can result in hefty fines of up to 6% of a company’s global revenue or force them to alter their software.

The European Commission’s concerns center on whether Facebook and Instagram exploit minors’ vulnerabilities, causing addictive behaviour, and the effectiveness of Meta’s age verification methods.

Meta’s response and ongoing scrutiny

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In response to the investigation, a Meta spokesperson highlighted the company’s decade-long efforts to develop tools and policies aimed at protecting young users. However, this reassurance has not alleviated regulatory concerns.

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, expressed skepticism about Meta’s compliance with DSA obligations, emphasizing the Commission’s commitment to protecting children.

Meta has faced increasing scrutiny globally over the impact of its platforms on young users. Lawsuits from US school districts and state attorneys general have focused on issues of youth mental health, child safety, and privacy.

An investigation by the New Mexico attorney general led to the arrests of three men for attempted sexual abuse of children through Meta’s platforms, further highlighting the risks associated with inadequate protections.

Social media addiction and global regulatory responses

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Social media addiction is a growing concern worldwide. Research from the University of Michigan estimates that 210 million people globally suffer from addiction to social media and the internet.

A study by Common Sense Media found that teens average over seven hours of screen time per day, while children aged 8 to 12 average nearly five hours daily. This excessive use has significant negative effects, including feelings of exclusion, low self-esteem, and cyberbullying.

Concerns about the compulsive use of digital technologies have led to significant regulatory responses.

The World Health Organization has classified “gaming disorder” as a diagnosable condition, and the US Surgeon General issued a public health advisory on the risks posed by social media to young people’s mental health.

Despite these concerns, the evidence on the psychological harm of social media remains mixed.

Some studies challenge the notion that social media use is inherently harmful, suggesting that the relationship between digital technology and mental health is complex and multifaceted.

Balancing benefits and risks

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As social media continues to evolve, the challenge for regulators, parents, and the platforms themselves is to balance the benefits of these technologies with the need to protect users, particularly the most vulnerable.

The EU’s investigation into Meta’s practices highlights the importance of robust regulatory frameworks to ensure that online environments are safe and supportive for young people.

Effective measures to combat social media addiction and protect young users require a multifaceted approach.

This includes improving age verification processes, enhancing privacy and safety features, educating users about the risks, and providing support for those struggling with addiction. By addressing these issues, society can better harness the potential of social media while mitigating its risks.

Impact on digital device usage

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Teens have widespread access to digital devices such as smartphones, laptops, and gaming consoles, which enables their engagement with social media and other online activities.

This access varies based on factors like household income and geographical location, but it facilitates a high level of social media usage among teens.

Growth of Instagram reels

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Instagram Reels, a popular feature on the platform, has gained 2.35 billion monthly active users.

This rise in short-form, vertical video content has contributed to increased screen time and potential addiction among users.

The efficiency and personalized content of Reels have made it a significant competitor to TikTok, particularly among younger users.

Concerns over content and exposure

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The lack of censorship on platforms like Instagram Reels raises concerns about the exposure of young users to inappropriate content. As social media platforms continue to evolve, it is crucial to address these issues to protect vulnerable populations from harmful effects.

Overall, the recent popularity of Instagram Reels and other social media features highlights the need for comprehensive strategies to manage content consumption, protect user privacy, and ensure the well-being of young users.

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