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Public health policy required to protect children on social media

Statement by Senator Mary Seery Kearney

16th April 2024 - Mary Seery-Kearney

Consideration must be given to developing a public health policy to ensure children are protected from the perils of social media, a Fine Gael Senator has said.


Fine Gael Seanad Spokesperson on Children, Disability, Equality, Integration & Youth Mary Seery Kearney was speaking ahead of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth hearing from representatives of X, TikTok and Meta today (16th April).


Noting warnings of the risks of social media usage for youth mental health, including sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety contained in the US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy’s recent report, Senator Seery Kearney expressed her intention to question the representatives of these social media giants on the mental health implications of social media for young people.


“My aim is to examine what responsibility they are taking for the rise in anxiety and mental health disorders in young people that coincides with the introduction and use of smartphones, in particular social media.


“Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the Media Commission to discuss advancing child safety online. Together with the Online Safety Commissioner, I explored the possibility of developing and introducing a pilot programme which would enlist more schools onto a No Smart Device Voluntary Code initiative – something I have been working toward for some time now.


“The Chair of the consultant committee in the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), Professor Matthew Sadlier has recommended that social media should be classed as a public health risk and likened it to nicotine products and alcohol, in terms of the potential harmful effects of overuse.


“He cited various studies from the United Kingdom which demonstrate overwhelming evidence of the link between increased social media use and negative wellbeing and mental health consequences in children and young adults.

“Children need to be supported in the development of cognitive security and critical thinking when engaging in smartphone devices. A whole of society approach is needed to ensure there is an awareness that children’s attention is being monopolised and monetised for profit. Children, and indeed everyone using smartphones, need to be informed to foster resilience against manipulation, misinformation, and harmful narratives.

“I will be asking the Oireachtas Children’s Committee to extend an invite to Professor Sadlier to discuss his findings and assess if we need a public health policy in place,” Senator Seery Kearney concluded.


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