Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Social media must be used in a positive way

We all know the perils of social media for young people who are ill equipped to deal with trolls or unsuitable images which can plant dangerous thoughts in their heads
We all know the perils of social media for young people who are ill equipped to deal with trolls or unsuitable images which can plant dangerous thoughts in their heads

Editor's Viewpoint

We all know the perils of social media for young people who are ill equipped to deal with trolls or unsuitable images which can plant dangerous thoughts in their heads. This has been highlighted by the tragic death of London schoolgirl Molly Russell, whose father believes that material linked to depression, self-harm and suicide was a factor in leading to her taking her own life and he has called for Instagram to do more to stop young people being able to see such content.

But it does not have to be unsuitable material which can cause severe angst among young people. A survey has found that almost two thirds of young people in Northern Ireland feel overwhelming pressure from social media.

They feel pressured into being successful, but consider that they will never be as happy as the people they see on social media. Instead of regarding these people as role models or someone to emulate, many young people regard their lifestyle as being something unattainable by them.

Yet in other areas they regard social media as a positive influence, giving them a platform on which to articulate their views and even be an influence for positive change.

These findings reflect the emotional turbulence that is so much part of growing up. Young people seemingly can simultaneously feel a lack of self-esteem but also that they can be part of a wider community and have some influence on other members.

And as our case study of a young girl who self-harmed and attempted to take her own life demonstrates, social media can be a tremendous support mechanism. She could summon that support at a click of a button, whereas before the rise of social media she would have depended on friends being physically present or on the end of a telephone when she was feeling low.

While it is evident that there is a large amount of unsuitable content on social media and that the enormously rich and powerful global companies which run the various platforms need to do more to control or remove such content, there is little if anything they can do to make users of the platforms feel better about themselves.

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Many teenagers have feelings of inadequacy as they seek to find their place in the world and naturally will feel inferior to those who are already successful - and that is where parental encouragement and support becomes vital.

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