Call for 0.5% levy on social media firms to fund mental health support

A cross-party group of MPs is calling for a 0.5% levy on the profits of social media companies, to be used to fund a new Social Media Health Alliance which would work to protect the health and wellbeing of young people

The all party parliamentary group (APPG) on social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing has published the first national inquiry specifically examining the impact of social media on the mental health and wellbeing of young people, which ran from April 2018 to January 2019.

The report explores the positive and negative health impacts of social media, as well as putting forward recommendations to protect young social media users from potential health harms.  The research found that children who spend more than three hours a day using social media are twice as likely to display symptoms of mental ill health.

The APPG has put forward a number of policy recommendations, including the creation of a Social Media Health Alliance, funded by a 0.5% levy on the profits of social media companies, to fund research, educational initiatives and establish clearer guidance for the public.

Its role will be to commission and review the growing evidence base on the impact of social media on health and wellbeing with a view to disseminating research and translating it into further policy calls and changes to the code of conduct; supporting the ambitions for a comprehensive digital education; and providing clearer public guidance.

Other proposals include establishing a duty of care on all social media companies with registered UK users aged 24 and under in the form of a statutory code of conduct, with Ofcom to act as regulator, as well as a review whether the ‘addictive’ nature of social media is sufficient for official disease classification. Also the commissioning of robust, longitudinal research, into understanding the extent to which the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and wellbeing is one of cause or correlation.  

Chris Elmore, chair of the APPG on social media on young people’s mental health and wellbeing said: ‘For far too long social media companies have been allowed to operate in an online Wild West. And it is in this lawless landscape that our children currently work and play online. This cannot continue. As the report makes clear, now is the time for the government to take action.

‘The recommendations from our inquiry are both sensible and reasonable; they would make a huge difference to the current mental health crisis among our young people.’

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of health education charity RSPH, who provide the APPG secretariat, said: ‘The overarching finding is the need for social media companies to have in place a duty of care to protect vulnerable users and the need for regulation which would provide much needed health and safety protection for what is a lawless digital playground.

‘We hope that our findings are recognised and included in the forthcoming white paper from DCMS so that we can empower our young people to manage their relationship with social media in a way that protects and promotes their mental health and wellbeing.’

#NewFilters to manage the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and wellbeing report is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

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