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'It is gaslighting you': Filmmaker explores role of social media in rising teen suicide rates

PUBLISHED: 11:06 24 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:06 24 March 2019

Shots from Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett and presented by psychologist Richard Grannon. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall Media

Shots from Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett and presented by psychologist Richard Grannon. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall Media

Brick in the Wall Media

A Norfolk filmmaker has claimed many young people are in a “narcissistic relationship” with social media which is damaging their mental health.

Richard Grannon speaking on the Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall MediaRichard Grannon speaking on the Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall Media

Richard Willett, from Norwich and working in Caister, teamed up with psychologist Richard Grannon to make a film about rising suicide rates among young people.

But they say their interviews and research revealed that social media had a part to play in the vast majority of cases, enabling young people to find damaging content and exacerbating their personal or social anxieties.

In the documentary, Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed, Mr Grannon speaks to former Facebook executives, mental health experts and young people led into anxiety and depression by social media to build a picture of its effects.

He and Mr Willett claim they are not asking people to stop using social media but to be more aware of how it works.

Shots from Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett and presented by psychologist Richard Grannon. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall MediaShots from Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett and presented by psychologist Richard Grannon. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall Media

Mr Willett said social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter were “not concerned about children’s mental health”.

“Some people have argued that it is no different to when they said rock and roll or TV were bad for kids, but they were passive things, whereas on social media you are providing the content. TV cannot target advertising, but social media is gaslighting you like a narcissistic relationship. It knows what you want because you tell it,” he said.

“We are trying to get people to see that it is a risky, addictive behaviour like alcohol or drugs.

“There is a healthy way to use it and once we see that we can start teaching children about it.”

The Plugged In documentary was released in late January and has been viewed around 65,000 times on YouTube.

Mr Willett and Mr Grannon are planning a sequel to further investigate the effects of social media on young minds, and Mr Grannon also plans to give talks in schools about the safe use of social media.

The industry’s effects on teenage mental health were thrust into the limelight with the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life in 2017 after viewing disturbing material on Instagram and whose father has blamed the site for her death.

The government has since announced a White Paper on online harms, through which social media companies could be forced to hand over data that could link them to increased rates of self-harm and suicide.

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