Nicola Davis at The Guardian: “Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter could be required by law to share data with researchers to help examine potential harms to young people’s health and identify who may be at risk.
Surveys and studies have previously suggested a link between the use of devices and networking sites and an increase in problems among teenagers and younger children ranging from poor sleep to bullying, mental health issues and grooming.
However, high quality research in the area is scarce: among the conundrums that need to be looked at are matters of cause and effect, the size of any impacts, and the importance of the content of material accessed online.
According to a report by the Commons science and technology committee on the effects of social media and screen time among young people, companies should be compelled to protect users and legislation was needed to enable access to data for high quality studies to be carried out.
The committee noted that the government had failed to commission such research and had instead relied on requesting reviews of existing studies. This was despite a 2017 green paper that set out a consultation process on aUK internet safety strategy.
“We understand [social media companies’] eagerness to protect the privacy of users but sharing data with bona fide researchers is the only way society can truly start to understand the impact, both positive and negative, that social media is having on the modern world,” said Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the committee. “During our inquiry, we heard that social media companies had openly refused to share data with researchers who are keen to examine patterns of use and their effects. This is not good enough.”
Prof Andrew Przybylski, the director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, said the issue of good quality research was vital, adding that many people’s perception of the effect of social media is largely rooted in hype.
“Social media companies must participate in open, robust, and transparent science with independent scientists,” he said. “Their data, which we give them, is both their most valuable resource and it is the only means by which we can effectively study how these platforms affect users.”…(More)”