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This session explored the connection between Internet use and mental health, explored areas of promise especially related to young people, and discussed how different stakeholders can minimise detrimental mental health consequences of internet-related technologies while maximising the benefits.
Moderator Mr Larry Magid, Chief Executive Officer ConnectSafely.org, introduced the issue and panellists, stating that the Internet in general, and social media in particular, is addictive, harmful to mental health, and closely related to a rise in suicides, especially among young people.
Mr Jeffery S Collins, Vice President After School, spoke about the work done by After School, a social network for high school students in the US. He spoke about the anonymity the After School platform provides along with the safety features it provides, including content moderation done through technical algorithms.
An eighth-grade student of Ms Philippine Bemije shared the example of a friend who wanted to commit suicide and how with the help of her friends and school counsellors, she overcame the situation. She further pointed out that social media have both positive and negative consequences for such people. A negative effect may result from watching self-harm, while a positive may result from talking with friends and knowing that she is loved and not alone. Answering a question regarding what makes some children more vulnerable online, she stated it depended on personality. Talking openly will help people to deal with cyber-bullying or issues of mental health among children.
Ms Victoria McCullough, Tumblr, spoke about the features available in blogging platforms, such as anonymity, connecting people with common interests; provision of hotlines, definitions of self-harm terms, and take down. Individuals may become mindful of content that could be harmful and may take proactive stands in campaigns around mental health and may partner with mental health organisations that can help
Ms Heffna spoke of the aim of her NGO to strengthen the relationship between homes and schools for the progress and well-being of students. She spoke of the positive experience and connection a good schooling bring to the lives of teens. She spoke of the initiatives of her NGO such as nursing educational material, help lines, the initiatives of Save the children, and Icelandic initiatives for a safer Internet. She further spoke of the role of media-driven speculation in diminishing trust in our society and need for more evidence-based research.
Ms Monica Guise Rosina, Public Policy Facebook, spoke about Facebook content policy and how the platform is improving its ability to remove harmful content, that is, content promoting self harm and suicide. She spoke of the feature that enables reporting of harmful content, of enforcing content policies, and of using human moderators to build tools that can help people receive more information, help, and partnering. Addressing a question regarding Facebook’s adoption of a real name culture, Rosina mentioned Facebook’s belief that using real names makes people more responsible and accountable online.
Other questions were raised on topics such as role of blue whales on teen suicide, how to balance free speech and content removal by online companies, and the importance of support systems for teens who attempt suicide.
The organising team will publish its conclusions along with a resource guide for Internet-based teen-focused organisations and companies on how to handle sensitive issues related to mental health and suicide. The aim is to make valuable resources available globally to improve detection, access, and awareness with respect to at-risk teens.
By Amrita Choudhury