Young people need to take much greater control over how they engage online while social media companies themselves need to implement greater controls against anonymous accounts.
These were some of the many observations made by members of the Mindspace Mayo Youth Panel on how social media can be a much better outlet for young people in Mayo.
In a wide ranging interview with The Mayo News as part of our ongoing series on social media, we sat down with five members of the panel via Zoom for a comprehensive discussion about the challenges and opportunities social media presents for young people in 2020.
The Mindspace Mayo Youth Panel advise and lead Mindspace Mayo in their work on youth mental health in the county.
Clióna Conway (24) from Ballycroy, Chloe Moyles (19) from Crossmolina, David Hughes (21) from Kilmaine, Róisín Murphy (22) from Lahardane and Chloe O’Malley (21) from Louisburgh articulated their views on social media in terms of what they’ve experienced personally and what they’ve observed.
Social media has, they stress, been a very beneficial tool during 2020, as Chloe Moyles explains.
“Back in March I was in UL and I went from seeing my best friends every day, nearly 12 to 14 hours a day, we’d do everything together, to not seeing them at all for eight months so being able to hook up with them in group chats or have a video call, I found it very beneficial for my mental health and I know they did too,” she said.
“The same as Chloe, I don’t know how I would have managed during the first lockdown and not being able to contact people via social media,” said Róisín Murphy. “But, at the same time, I feel there is a lot of pressure to always be ‘on’ and available when you’re on social media,” she added.
There’s a balance to be struck. Chloe O’Malley was shocked when she checked her screentime to discover she was on her phone 40 hours a week during lockdown. Some of it was related to roles as a youth worker and community worker but she did decide to take a step back.
Clióna Conway argues there’s an expectation to be ‘on’ 24/7 but said it is important to take a break from your phone for your own benefit whenever you can. All panelists agreed Instagram can, in particular, give a glorified version of people’s reality, in terms of appearance.
“Social media definitely does have a huge impact on mental health, even in terms of the time you spend on it. It changes your perception of everything. If you are looking at Instagram five hours a day and then you are going back to reality, your mind is warped by it and so much is so filtered. It’s improving a bit – I think people are embracing the body positivity thing recently.
“A lot of it is in your own control though. It is up to you to decide who you are letting on and who you are talking to. I think people need to be a little bit more careful in what they’re posting sometimes as well,” said Clióna.
David Hughes actually deleted Instagram from his phone three years ago.
“With filters and stuff, a lot of it is not real on Instagram and that’s what people have to be aware of. I was starting to compare myself to others and thinking I’m not good enough so I took a break from it,” he revealed.
The panel all express concerns about how younger teens are engaging with social media now, advocating for greater education on the pitfalls of particular apps and sites and also arguing many parents do not necessarily lead by example.
“I think it is a lot harder for young people. They’re given phones whether they want them or not. It is coming as a Christmas present or birthday present. Maybe their parents are on Facebook or other apps and they are just watching their parents spending hours scrolling on it so they think they have to do it whereas we weren’t on it at all when we were that age,” said Chloe O’Malley.
It is difficult for parents, too, the panel observe. Some go online thinking they should do so to protect their kids but then ‘go down the rabbit hole themselves’.
But their interaction might be limited to Facebook while their kids are using Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TicToc or other platforms.
“I think parents thought they were catching up when they joined Facebook but now young people hardly use Facebook anymore. If you told anyone below the age of 18 that you were on Facebook, they’d probably think you were really old!” said Róisín Murphy.
There is a much greater need for online transparency, the panel agree. Anonymous accounts are rarely, they say, a force for good and Clióna Conway says responsibility here comes back to the social media companies.
“The biggest thing I would like to see would be an ID verification because there’s so many fake accounts and there seems to be a huge rise in these fake accounts during lockdown with just one follower and posting nasty comments to people.
“If it was something like Revolut where you’ve to take a picture of your passport and it is just proof that you are who you say you are. I don’t see why social media platforms don’t do that as well. It will bring a lot more accountability to things because if you’re getting these voiceless, nameless persons behind a screen, there’s very little accountability and there’s very little than can be done with them as well,” she said.