Children’s Society offers resources to churches to tackle online harm

01 March 2019

Children’s Society

THE Children’s Society has launched resources to help church youth leaders to talk to teenagers about well-being, body image, and self-esteem in response to the mental-health crisis that has been linked to heavy usage of social media.

Speaking before the launch of the resources last week, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, reiterated her call for social-media companies to face heavy fines if they fail to take down harmful content.

The materials were unveiled at a fringe meeting at the General Synod by the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, who is vice-chair of the charity’s board of trustees, and Bishop Treweek, who is one of its vice-presidents. The resources follow the Children’s Society’s 2018 Good Childhood report, which found that almost one quarter of 14-year-old girls and one tenth of 14-year-old boys had self-harmed.

The Children’s Society’s church engagement manager, the Revd Mike Todd, said that the charity wanted to “make life better and safer for young people”. The death of the teenager Molly Russell, whose suicide her parents have linked to images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram and Pinterest, “brings into sharp focus why this is so important. [Her] death is one too many,” he said.

Bishop Treweek, who has been tackling the issue of body image through her #liedentity campaign (News, 28 October 2016), said that she favoured regulation similar to that passed in Germany under which social-media companies could be fined up to €50 million if they did not take down inappropriate content with 24 hours of being notified about it.

“[The fine] has got to be enough that it hurts . . . but that money should go back into mental-health services,” she said.

She went on to say that the social-media companies should have a “duty of care” towards their users, and ways in which young people can take down inappropriate content and rate the harmfulness of sites using emojis.

The policy and research manager for the charity, Richard Crellin, said that one factor driving a “shocking” decline in levels of teenagers’ well-being “is particularly how girls feel about their appearance”. The charity also found that lower levels of well-being among children were linked to usage of social media for more than four hours per day.

The Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are considering measures to tackle harmful content online, such as having an independent regulator, and placing a statutory “duty of care” on platforms.

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