If we are serious about addressing the alarming worsening of teens’ mental health, we must reduce their social media use.
Criticism of Ukraine war spreads on Russian social media as loved ones die
Online posts condemning the loss of Russian soldiers and criticising the Ukraine war are being published on one of Russia’s most popular social media sites, despite the country’s tough stance on dissent.
The posts are written in Russian and appear to come from the accounts of real Russian citizens on VKontakte (VK), a platform similar to Facebook.
“This f****** war took another person dear to me… Well, for what!!??,” wrote one angry young woman mourning her late partner.
She also posted a photo of the two of them with wide smiles for the camera and with her sitting in his lap. Her arm is draped over his shoulders and he is cuddling her close.
Others post similar messages.
Another grieving woman wrote: “Now you will be an eternally young twenty-two-year-old boy with sparkling blue eyes and a bright smile [but] this damn war has wiped your face off the earth.”
One user called for the war to end, branding it a “meat grinder” in an apparent reference to the large number of lives it has claimed. Another wrote: “These men died a terrible death.”
These comments were posted on pages set up to memorialise the men who have died fighting in Ukraine.
But Sky News also found a number of similar posts on community pages. Previous discussions on these local pages focused on the weather, crime rates and road repairs but now include messages paying tribute to soldiers who died.
One such recent post reported the deaths of six men from Vologda, a city in northwest Russia.
“Stop the war!!!!!,” reads one brazen comment underneath it. Another argues “why shouldn’t the Armed Forces of Ukraine defend their house when it was attacked?” on the same post.
These people are taking a risk by posting publicly as VK is monitored for comments that are not allowed.
Users know this, with some of the community pages on VK pointing readers to their encrypted Telegram channels. One such page wrote: “Only there we publish uncensored news that are not available on VK.”
Other users also play a role in shutting down these types of critical comments. Some will argue against the angry posts and threaten to report the comments to the moderators. These users will often also attack the person who posted the anti-war message by insulting them, for example calling them “scum”.
These negative comments are scattered among other posts, the overwhelming majority of which praise the dead men. The late soldiers are lauded as war heroes and users send condolences to the loved ones of those who lost their lives.
“Thanks to such soldiers, the country can sleep peacefully,” is one typical post.
Praise for Russia’s actions in Ukraine is widespread on VK as well as on other platforms.
TikTok is hugely popular and videos glorifying Russia, Putin and the war are clocking up millions of views.
One clip showing a segment of a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin put to uplifting music has been viewed more than 1.7 million times. In it, he tells a huge crowd that Russia will win against Ukraine.
Another clip, viewed more than 2.1 million times, is an animation showing Russia expanding to take over the entirety of Ukraine. It is posted with a caption that this is what would happen if Russia unleashed its full force on the country.
The war began almost one year ago, with Russia suffering heavy losses. Around 200,000 Russian troops have been injured or killed during the Ukraine war, according to US estimates. Moscow says its losses are much lower.
The war has brought with it new censorship laws in Russia, including a ban on the word “war”. The fighting in Ukraine is referred to as a “special military operation”.
This censorship has teeth. Earlier this month, Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko was sentenced to six years, becoming the first journalist imprisoned under the new censorship laws. Her trial had been triggered by a negative social media comment she posted about the war.
OVD-Info monitors human rights in Russia and reports that at least 440 people have been recorded as “suspects and convicts in anti-war criminal cases” and that more than 19,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests since 24 February 2022, according to its website.
Sky News has decided not to share the names of those posting critical messages in this article over safety concerns.
The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.
Social media is devastating teens’ mental health. Here’s what parents can do.
The connection is well-established. Abundant research has linked depression and self-harm to frequency of social media use. And a new study from the American Psychological Association shows that cutting back helps teens feel better. Companies are aware of this; Facebook executive-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that the company’s own research found that use of their platforms was linked to anxiety, depression and body image issues in teens.
Federal health data highlight why this is so crucial. In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing their usual activities. The crisis is particularly pronounced in girls; nearly 3 in 5 teen girls reported persistent feelings of sadness, an increase of over 60 percent since 2011.
Indeed, social media is creating a “perfect storm” for girls, Jelena Kecmanovic, a psychotherapist and adjunct psychology professor at Georgetown University, told me. “Their tendency to be perfectionist and hard on themselves during their tween and teen years gets magnified thousands of times in the online culture of comparison,” she said.
The trouble with online interactions is also what they are replacing. A 2022 survey found that average daily screen use increased further during the pandemic and is now more than 5½ hours among children ages 8 to 12 and a whopping 8 hours and 39 minutes for teens ages 13 to 18. That’s time that previously was spent engaging in-person relationships and on healthier activities such as playing outside, sports and sleep.
Pediatrician Michael Rich, who co-founded and directs the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, explained to me that he treats teens who “struggle with physical, mental and social health issues” from excessive social media use. He has seen straight-A students’ grades plummet and young adults struggle to forge relationships after entering college.
Given the magnitude of the problem, solving it might seem daunting for parents. Nevertheless, here are four steps they can take:
Create spaces free from screens.
Kecmanovic suggests establishing guardrails, such as taking away screens during meals and before bedtime. Parents can also limit their kids’ social media use to the shared family space, “not behind locked doors, and definitely not until 2 a.m. in their bedroom” when they should be sleeping.
Given the ubiquity of technology and its use in school curriculums, it might be hard to enforce a screen time limit. Instead, Rich advises setting a minimum time without screens. “That becomes a more practical way to offer our kids a rich and diverse menu of experiences, which can include screens but shouldn’t be dominated by them or become the default behavior,” he said.
Mauritius media guide
The media scene in Mauritius is divided in two, with a highly politicised media, including the national broadcaster, and elsewhere media outlets which can be outspoken but sometimes veer towards sensationalism, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
US-based NGO Freedom House says that the media regulatory agency lacks independence and disproportionately targets opposition media.
Under 2018 changes to the law, journalists can face prison sentences for content that causes “inconvenience, distress, or anxiety”.
Television is the most popular medium. State-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio and TV generally reflect government thinking. MBC is funded by advertising and a TV licence fee.
Two media groups – Le Mauricien Ltd and La Sentinelle Ltd – dominate the press scene.
BBC World Service is available via a mediumwave (AM) relay (1575 kHz). Radio France Internationale is relayed on FM.
There were 919,000 internet users by December 2021, comprising 72% of the population (Internetworldstats.com).
Home Office delays Windrush grants amid row over social media posts
The Home Office has decided not to award £150,000-worth of grants to Windrush community organisations, amid internal disagreement about whether funds should be given to groups that have expressed criticism of the government on social media.
In December, civil servants approved applications from 15 organisations to receive about £10,000 of funding each from the Windrush community engagement fund, a grant established in the wake of the 2018 citizenship scandal.
However, their decision was blocked by the home secretary’s private office, because advisers were concerned that two of the groups approved for funding had retweeted posts expressing criticism of the Home Office.
The Windrush National Organisation, the UK’s largest Windrush community organisation, and the University of Leicester Pro Bono clinic, working with the Highfields community centre, both had their grant approval questioned.
Discussions over whether or not they could be removed from the recommended list caused a long delay to the grant process, and eventually the department had decided to scrap the allocation of the fund for 2022-23, a Home Office source said.
The source said there was nothing abusive in the contentious tweets, which consisted of retweeted articles from the Guardian and the Independent covering government immigration policy and pieces highlighting issues around race.
The Windrush community engagement fund was set up to support community groups to raise awareness of the government’s compensation and documentation scheme, and of the Home Office’s other initiatives to support those affected by the department’s Windrush errors, which led to thousands of legal UK residents being mistakenly classified as immigration offenders.
Applicants to the cancelled fund received letters from the Home Office stating: “We are writing to inform you that we are unfortunately withdrawing the competition for this financial year and no funding will be awarded.
“Unfortunately, we have experienced delays with our internal assessment of the latest community engagement fund (CEF) bids leaving successful applicants very little time to spend money before the end of the financial year.”
The letter added: “We will relaunch the competition next financial year. We know this is disappointing news.”
Asked at a public meeting last week about the decision not to distribute £150,000-worth of grants, Angela Wilson, a Home Office civil servant and head of the Windrush external engagement team, said: “This was to do with internal problems with our assessment criteria.”
Applicants to the fund responded with frustration at the time wasted in submitting applications for small grant allocations that were then not distributed.
The source said the eligibility criteria were likely to be rewritten for next year, to request that applicants be prepared to “work constructively” with the Home Office.
Bishop Desmond Jaddoo, the chair of the Windrush National Organisation, was unaware of the context behind the cancellation of the 2022-23 grants. He said his organisation had had a constructive working relationship with the Home Office to date.
“Community-led engagement is intrinsic to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal and any available community engagement fund must be timely and commensurate to support the much-needed engagement requirements across the affected diverse communities in the UK and abroad,” he said.
Laura Bee, from the Leicester University Pro Bono clinic, which assists people to make applications to the Windrush compensation scheme, said she had not been told anything about the background to the “disappointing” decision to cancel the fund allocations for last year.
Her organisation had not put anything on social media about Windrush, but the Highfields community centre, where they were planning to hold events, and with whom they had submitted a joint application, had occasionally retweeted articles about Home Office policy.
“Our clinic is well-placed to raise awareness about the compensation scheme and help potential claimants to access the scheme. Our student advisers really value the opportunity to carry out this important work,” she said.
A Home Office spokesperson said the decision to withdraw the fund had been taken due to “internal delays”, and that the scheme would be relaunched in the new financial year. “We continue to provide comprehensive engagement and information to organisations to enable them to support affected individuals,” the spokesperson said.
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