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The Coroner’s office is investigating what contribution Instagram made to the tragic death of three young women (Image: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The Coroner’s office is investigating what contribution Instagram made to the tragic death of three young women (Image: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The BulletinOctober 6, 2022

Holding social media to account

The Coroner’s office is investigating what contribution Instagram made to the tragic death of three young women (Image: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The Coroner’s office is investigating what contribution Instagram made to the tragic death of three young women (Image: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The Coroner’s office is investigating what contribution Instagram made to the tragic death of three young women as we wait for the release of a draft online content regulation framework, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.

 

“Should my kids be on social media?”

Whenever I write about social media, I get messages from friends asking that very question. “I have no idea” is my standard response. Most days I’m with Jonathan Haidt who wrote Yes, social media really is undermining democracy.  But I don’t know if that’s top of mind for 14-year-olds and I didn’t grow up knowing only a world where my online and real world social lives were enmeshed. I also think adults writing about social media sometimes lean into moral panic and don’t really understand internet culture. Case and point this week: the NyQuil Chicken saga on TikTok. You’ll need to read that, I don’t have enough words.

Social media platforms know about the harm they cause

Quandaries about moral panic aside, the platforms are causing harm and they know it. Yesterday, RNZ reported that there’s been a 168% increase in admissions of 10-14 year olds to hospital for eating disorders. In 2021, the Wall Street Journal detailed how internal Facebook research showed Instagram can make body image issues worse for some young people. Instagram is also becoming more like TikTok, showing you more content dictated by algorithmic learning and less from your social circle. As Alex Casey found out, it took 60 seconds from signing up as a 13-year-old boy on TikTok to being served content from a guy who once said “if a man slept with 20 girls or 200 girls, he is still the man. If a woman slept with 200 men, she is worthless”.

New Zealand coroners office launches investigation into Instagram concerns

In the last week, there’s been examples here and abroad of coroners looking to hold social media to account following the tragic deaths of young women. Last week, a coroner’s court in the UK ruled that harmful online content on Instagram and Pinterest contributed to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell. Yesterday the Herald revealed that the Coroner’s office here has launched a joint inquiry into suspected suicides by three young women after initial investigations raised concerns about material they viewed on Instagram. This week, the US Supreme Court made a move to investigate Section 230 immunity which shields social media companies from legal responsibility for what users post on their sites.

Consultation of draft regulatory framework for online content due

Regulation is a slippery fish but the consensus from those involved with content regulation in New Zealand is that what we currently have is inadequate. Recent research from the Classification Office found one in five had personally seen content online that encouraged suicide, self-harming or eating disorders. The Department of Internal Affairs is currently reviewing our regulatory framework for media and online content. According to its timeline, public consultation on the draft was meant to be underway sometime between September and November this year so we should be expecting it any day now.

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