Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2024
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Brianna Ghey’s murder supports a social media ban for under-16s, says Cara Usher-Smith | Express Comment | Comment

It is hard to comprehend the monstrous brutality of the murder of Brianna Ghey, the transgender teenage girl whose killers now aged 16, were recently convicted.

One of them, Scarlett Jenkinson, had been viewing violence and torture on the dark web since the age of 13 and had planned the killing on messaging apps.

The details of the case are harrowing. Yet this comes on the back of the terrifying news that we are seeing an explosion in sexual crimes committed by other teenagers, resulting from their exposure to violent porn, which is so often viewed through social media.

We should take note that rather than turn on her daughter’s killers, Esther Ghey, Brianna’s mother, has joined the growing calls for a ban of social media to under 16’s.

Esther quite rightly argues that smartphones are like the ‘wild west’ where it is impossible for parents to monitor what their children are viewing and provide the protection they need.

My own goddaughter, aged 12, is genuinely traumatised having been recently shown violent pornography shared via a social media app on her way to swimming club.

These social media apps are used for child sexual exploitation, sharing child pornography and other depravities, and us parents feel desperate and disarmed for how we can protect our children.

But it is not just the damaging and disturbing content that children view online that is the problem, it is also the harmful nature of how the social media apps (such as TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram) play to teenagers’ deep insecurities, particularly when it comes to teenage girls.

They sit reluctantly and yet addicted ‘doom scrolling’ as they view other girls’ lives, carefully curated online, which look a darn sight more exciting and glamorous than their own. These children lack the perspective of adults to see it for what it is. An entire day can be ruined by not getting enough ‘likes’ on a posting you made that morning. The psychological damage is enormous.

British children are using TikTok on average more than two hours a day, a doubling since 2020, which is no surprise given the addictive nature of it (by design of course).

There is a reason why the Chinese who invented TikTok, severely restrict its use and content when it comes to their children. In the UK, the suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds has doubled for boys since 2010 and trebled for girls.

Self-harm and eating disorders amongst teenage girls are also increasing. The esteemed US psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, describes the increasing number child suicides as a result of social media and smartphones, as being among the largest public health threats to children since the major diseases like polio were wiped out.

At what point do we take stock and say enough. That this sinister experiment on undeveloped and immature brains to allow children unbridled access to social media, has been an unmitigated disaster, which is destroying the life chances of so many children.

Us mothers (I speak as a mother of three young children) are petrified about the effect of all this on our kids, but we feel we are in an impossible position as we wrestle with the risk of fallout and social isolation for our children if we don’t give them access to social media. And this is why we need the ban.


Sadly, our Prime Minster Rishi Sunak doesn’t seem to grasp this and when asked about the social media ban that Esther Ghey’s mother among so many others are calling for, he answered that the online harms act will provide ‘tough new powers to control what is exposed to children online’. But the jury is out on this one.

The act also does nothing to tackle the immense psychological damage that social media is doing to our children by feeding their insecurities and removing them from real world relationships. The worrying part is that Sunak obviously doesn’t want to grasp this nettle.

Perhaps he doesn’t want to take on big tech, perhaps it all seems too much for him ahead of an election.

It seems he would rather be seen to look like he is doing something by grabbing the low hanging fruit like vaping.

It does feel, however, that the tide is turning, even if our Prime Minister is struggling to catch up. In Florida they are looking at how they can bring in a social media ban to under 16’s and brave MPs like Miriam Cates have been arguing for something similar here.

A number of US States are taking Meta to court for the damage they have done to their children’s mental health, and you only had to watch that clip of Mark Zuckerberg at the recent congressional hearing, reluctantly and awkwardly apologising directly to the parents of children exploited, bullied or driven to self-harm via social media, to realise that this is a pivotal moment.

It feels the scent of change is in the air, and it is time our politicians caught up.

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