UK MPs call for research into excessive social media use

UK MPs have called for social media addiction to be considered a disease, after reports have suggested that social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter could be having a harmful effect on children.

The calls for action come from a report from an all-party parliamentary group on social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, and MPs with an interest in the subject have teamed up with the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) to write the report, which the charity has endorsed.

MPs want the government to urgently fund long-term studies to look into a clinical definition for social media addiction. “It is paramount that we protect young people to ensure they are kept safe and healthy when they are online,” claims the report.

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The report also suggests the UK government looks into issuing formal health guidance for those aged 24 and under, asking how they can avoid excessive social media use, in addition to reinforcing the calls that have been made recently to share anonymised data with researchers. Potentially, this could help researchers to understand the impact of social media on young people.

MPs have also suggested that the government should look at the recent addition of gaming disorder to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s definition of gaming disorder as a potential jumping in point for some sort of social media disorder for those who struggle with excessive social media use, providing the research backs it up.

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The report additionally mentions the way tech companies seek to encourage users to keep coming back to the services, encouraging repeated use. There’s talk in the report about the responsibilities that these companies should have with their online platforms, and how the government can work with them to make a healthier environment online.  

As someone who personally feels their mental health has been negatively affected by social media use, without particularly excessive usage, it would be interesting to see the government take an interest in things, although generally if the government steps in to regulate things this tends to be quite heavy handed, so any findings implying problematic social media trends could end up addressed by social media companies internally before the government has to take any serious action.

Do you overuse social media or have kids hooked on the ‘gram/’book/Twitter? Let us know on Twitter at @TrustedReviews. Yes, we realise that’s ironic.