The Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for social media data to be handed over to academics in order to protect children and young people who are at risk of suicide.
By studying the content that is being viewed, the hope is that new research could help protect users from material that could harm them.
According to an article from The Guardian:
“We will never understand the risks and benefits of social media use unless the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram share their data with researchers,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the college’s child and adolescent mental health faculty. “Their research will help shine a light on how young people are interacting with social media, not just how much time they spend online.”
Data passed to academics would show the type of material viewed and how long users were spending on such platforms but would be anonymous, the college said.
That the data would be anonymised could potentially make this course of action permissible under GDPR, but this data is nonetheless extremely sensitive. Care would have to be taken to ensure that it was shared with academics legally and that users were sufficiently protected.
The idea has received support from other sources as well. The Guardian goes on:
NHS England challenged firms to hand over the sort of information that the college is suggesting. Claire Murdoch, its national director for mental health, said that action was needed “to rein in potentially misleading or harmful online content and behaviours”.
She said: “If these tech giants really want to be a force for good, put a premium on users’ wellbeing and take their responsibilities seriously, then they should do all they can to help researchers better understand how they operate and the risks posed. Until then, they cannot confidently say whether the good outweighs the bad.”
With the government currently planning measures to make the internet a safer place for users, including setting up an independent regulator and placing a duty of care on online companies, the Royal College of Psychiatrists may well get what they want here.
But with data privacy being a major concern here, there is also likely to be objections. According to the BBC, civil rights group Big Brother Watch stated that users should be “empowered to choose what data they give away, who to and for what purposes”, and that young people should not be treated like “lab rats” on social media.