It’s THIS easy for kids to find the dark side of social media

The dark side of the internet for kids - it's this easy for kids to reach disturbing content

Gemma Elliss

As a mum my social media feed is full of interesting parenting articles, crafts and recipes I will probably never get round to making and viral videos of pets doing funny things.

It’s all too easy to believe that’s what social media is like for everyone: a daily distraction that we can flick through to make us smile, laugh and keep up with the news, gossip and family snaps.

It’s shocking to learn that, especially for our children, social media can be a very dark place. All at the click of a button.

The dark side of the internet for kids - it's this easy for kids to reach disturbing contentA second in search and forever in your newsfeed

I decided to test just how easy it was to view some pretty disturbing images on social media. I was horrified by what I found within seconds.

I searched for hashtags which I guessed might bring up some pretty dark content. I wasn’t wrong. The images I found shocked me to the core.

Very quickly my feeds were flooded with countless photos of bleeding self harm injuries, emaciated bodies and memes from suicidal teenagers saying they felt like giving up as they had nothing to live for.

I actually felt ill seeing the pictures on my feed.

I also didn’t know how to delete my searches and stop any more horrible images flooding my feed. They are still there.

Many more get added to my feed daily and it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable.

How do our kids handle this?

I am a self-assured and self confident adult, happy in my own skin and with a positive outlook on life.

I can only imagine what effect these disturbing images would have on me if I was a teenager who was feeling low, insecure, desperate or alone.

I feel deeply saddened and scared, as a mother, for all the people posting images of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. If their images get lots of ‘likes’ does it make them feel better or worse?

I am shocked at how easy it is to view disturbing images on social media.

Do the platforms help our children?

Instagram has a pop up message that appears if you search for some dark hashtags. It reads:

Can we help?

Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behaviour that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help Instagram

There are then three choices:

  1. Get support
  2. See posts anyway
  3. Cancel

The platform is obviously aware of the potential harmful and even fatal effect of these images. It is something, at least, that they prompt a user to pause and have the option to get support.

But it also seems all too easy for a troubled young person to just click ‘see posts anyway’. They quickly fall down the rabbit hole as they then click on and see more and more disturbing images.

The dark side of social media is everywhere

I sometimes feel a bit guilty about wasting my time scrolling through my feeds just to pass the time of day. But naively, I never saw social media as anything that could be disturbing or damaging.

Because my daily feed is full of comforting and innocuous things I was oblivious to what my own children could be exposed to on some of the most high profile social platforms.

Years ago I had been told that Tumblr was full of images of self harm and so had always told my two girls never to sign up to that platform. I really had no idea that they could access and view similar images on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest. I had always thought of these as pretty safe and just there to share and collect pretty pictures.

The dark side of the internet for kids - it's this easy for kids to reach disturbing contentTragic ends

Like so many other parents I was shocked by the tragic suicide of Molly Russell, who was only 14. Molly’s father Ian, has bravely spoken out to claim that social media is partly to blame for his daughter’s death. This was after her Instagram feed revealed disturbing images of self-harm, depression and suicide.

In light of the tragic death of Molly Russell, Margot James, the minister for suicide prevention, has vowed to crackdown  on social media sites.

She insists they be better policed so that they will be forced by law to sign a code of conduct protecting young and vulnerable users.

I’m glad that finally those in power are standing up and taking notice.

I’m deeply, deeply sad that it it took a beautiful 14 year old girl committing suicide and her brave father to speak out, to make us start striving for change.

Will things change?

I want to believe that we can make these changes to protect more vulnerable children from seeing these disturbing images.

I worry though that it will take a lot of wasted time and red tape to get there. Changes need to happen and they need to happen now.

I searched for disturbing hashtags for research. I wish I hadn’t. There are some things I can’t unsee and that will be forever in my memory.

One thing I know for sure is that they are all images that I pray my children have never and will never see. I’m probably still being naive thinking they never will.  I want to know that they can’t.

Something needs to change. And soon.


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