Search icon


30th Apr 2024

Effect of smartphones and social media on children is ‘the public health threat of our time’

Sophie Collins

Social media

Social media is described as the ‘public health threat of our time’

In a recent episode of his podcast “In Conversation” with Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence didn’t hold back in his criticism of social media.

He took aim at X’s lack of commitment to addressing the plague of online hate speech and how it can be detrimental to our youngest generation’s mental health.

Martin is calling for urgent action to confront this issue to avoid its effects on children who are increasingly exposed to it through smartphones and social media platforms.

Speaking on the podcast, Martin described the influence of smartphones and social media on young people as “the public health threat of our time”.

He stressed that there is a need to take proactive steps to protect children online, echoing the sentiments of his guest, Irish Professor, Luke O’Neill.

O’Neill proposed employing facial recognition technology to restrict underage access to certain online platforms.

Drawing parallels to past struggles within the tobacco industry, Martin said he was sceptical about social media companies’ willingness to effectively tackle online hate speech. 

social media
Credit: iStock

He said: “It’s clear to me that X isn’t going to be interested in sorting any of this out. Their model is heading in one direction.” 

Martin also highlighted the companies’ resistance to measures like age verification controls and restrictions on smartphone use among young children and said: “Do companies really want to do that?”

Despite some social media giants’ purported efforts to combat hate speech, Martin said he remains unconvinced of their sincerity, particularly when it comes to X. 

He emphasised the importance of a cautious approach to employing artificial intelligence (AI) in addressing online hate speech and is advocating for the implementation of safeguards to protect people from harm.

Discussing the role of Coimisiun na Mean, the newly established Irish regulator for broadcasters and online media, Martin said its authority needs to enforce guidelines and levy fines for violations. 

Martin’s remarks underscored the pressing need for collective action to combat the growth of hate speech online and to ensure the well-being of people – particularly children – in the digital age.