Consider social media

The coroner’s office is investigating Instagram’s contribution to the tragic deaths of three young women as we await the release of a draft online content regulatory framework, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.

“Should my kids be on social media?”

Every time I write on social media, I get messages from friends asking this same question. “I have no idea” is my standard response. Most of the time, I’m with Jonathan Haidt who wrote Yes, Social Media Really Undermines Democracy. But I don’t know if it’s a priority for 14-year-olds, and I didn’t grow up knowing only a world where my online and real-world social lives were intertwined. I also think that adults who write on social media sometimes lean into moral panic and don’t really understand internet culture. Case and point this week: the NyQuil Chicken saga on TikTok. You will need to read this, I don’t have enough words.

Social media platforms know the damage they cause

Moral panic dilemmas aside, the platforms are hurting and they know it. Yesterday RNZ reported that there had been a 168 per cent increase in admissions of children aged 10 to 14 to hospital for eating disorders. In 2021, The Wall Street Journal detailed how internal Facebook research showed that Instagram can make body image issues worse for some young people. Instagram is also more like TikTok, showing you more content driven by algorithmic learning and less of your social circle. As Alex Casey found out, it took 60 seconds to sign up as a 13-year-old boy on TikTok and receive content from a guy who once said “if a man slept with 20 girls or 200 girls, he’s still the man. If a woman has slept with 200 men, she’s worth nothing.”

New Zealand Coroner’s Office launches investigation into Instagram issues

Over the past week, there have been examples here and abroad of coroners seeking to hold social media to account over the tragic deaths of young women. Last week, a coroner’s court in the UK ruled that harmful online content on Instagram and Pinterest contributed to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell. The Herald yesterday revealed the coroner’s office here has launched a joint investigation into the alleged suicides of three young women after initial inquiries raised concerns about material they viewed on Instagram. This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled to investigate Section 230 immunity that protects social media companies from legal liability for what users post on their sites.

Consultation of the draft regulatory framework for online content

Regulation is a slippery fish, but the consensus of those involved in content regulation in New Zealand is that what we currently have is inadequate. Recent research from the Classification Bureau found that one in five people have personally seen content online that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders. The Home Affairs Department is currently reviewing our regulatory framework for online media and content. According to his schedule, public consultation on the project was to be underway between September and November this year, so we should expect it any day now.

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