A correlation may be deduced between the modern use of smartphones and the introduction of tobacco in Elizabethan times when the practice of inhaling a fired weed rolled in paper brought both pleasure and disease to millions. These hazardous practices were regarded by society as an essential requisite to combat the vicissitudes of daily life and their regulation was opposed as being a blow to freedom of individual choice.

The evidence that the use of smartphones linked to social media can damage mental health has continued to grow exponentially following the introduction of this phenomenon in 2007. Although data is incomplete concerning the extent of disease among the billion utilizers, what seems certain is that the millennial generation and adolescents are the most affected as they are more prone to despair and sadness concerning the degradation of our planet.

A recent in-depth investigation by two journalists of the New York Times uncovered disturbingly supportive evidence. This included the uncovering of a secretive internal study at Meta which found that half a million Instagram accounts of minors recorded daily interactions considered to be inappropriate. Although the Company claimed to have reported to its regulators the worst of abusive child imagery there was a reluctance to block platforms which also produced a lucrative revenue from promotional advertising.

Much of the “soft pornographic” material was considered to have originated from the desire of proud “Moms” to earn money from the sale of their daughters´ (and some sons) scantily clad images while performing dance routines reminiscent of the films of Shirley Temple aboard “the good ship lollipop” and imaginative scenes from the locker rooms of gymnasiums.

Far worse, it is shown that the youngsters themselves have organized groups which offer on the internet video clips and photographs of sexual and masochistic activities which increase in price with each successive revelation. Payment is made to bank accounts which have been opened by adults - often family members who may have pressured by threats of exposure due to their participation.

It is unsurprising to learn that a seventeen-year-old Portuguese boy has been placed in protective custody charged with incitement of his peers to plan four shooting incidents in Brazilian schools, one of which resulted in fatality. His criminal activity also included the persuasion of young girls to mutilate themselves while participating in the torture and death of animals. It is alleged that this young man and his group of male adolescents used the platform Discord as a basis for the international dissemination of their sadism and sale of sexually explicit material.

To return to my opening allegory: Forty years ago it was almost unthinkable that governance could enforce an end to smoke-filled bars, cinemas, public places and a huge financial burden to health services trying to cope with treatment of lung cancer and respiratory diseases. Can we hope now that the same governance will take action to reduce accessibility by minors to harmful sites by imposing curfews and financial penalties? And will the hugely powerful companies such as Google, Meta and Amazon put moral duty above profit by blocking platforms which seek to corrupt by proposing painful and often horrific activities to people of all ages?

Roberto Cavaleiro Tomar 08 May 2024