Social media legislation must recognise photoshopped social media advertisements as harmful content

As Safer Internet Day 2022 is celebrated across the EU (Tue, 8th Feb), we must recognise the harmful impact that unrealistic body images can have on the self-esteem of young social media users, a Fine Gael TD has said.


Deputy Emer Higgins, TD for Dublin Mid-West and Fine Gael Spokesperson on social media has called on the Government to list overly edited and photoshopped advertisement images as ‘harmful content’ under the recently published Online Social Media and Regulation Bill.



Deputy Higgins said, “February 8th marks Safer Internet Day 2022, and with the Online Social Media and Regulation Bill now published and moving through the Oireachtas, is moving closer to realising the goals of Safer Internet Day and creating a safer online experience for all users.


“But there are still areas for improvement, and I am concerned that the use of overly edited and photoshopped content by companies and influencers in order to sell products on social media is having a damaging impact on young people’s self-esteem, body confidence and mental health.


‘Nowadays, we all live in a selfie era and we all know how to easily edit and filter our own photos, but it’s become such common practice that we’ve created a culture of unrealistic body image and that is being capitalised on by companies and influencers to sell products and services,” said Deputy Higgins.


“Young people online are being bombarded 24/7 with content that showcases an unrealistic and often unattainable body image which is bound to have an impact on their confidence and mental health.


“Ireland is a world leader when it comes to our ability to attract social media companies. I believe we have an opportunity and a responsibility to take action on this particular issue,” added Deputy Higgins.



“Currently in Norway they’re introducing legislation to effectively make it illegal to manipulate photographs for advertising purposes unless you’ve clearly labelled the photo as ‘edited’ and I think we could build on this by actually labelling undisclosed manipulated advertising content on social media as ‘harmful content’ under our Online Social Media Regulation Bill.”


Deputy Higgins said, “Currently under the OSMR Bill, harmful content will be defined as content related to cyberbullying, the promotion of suicide and self-harm and eating disorders, but there is a provision to further include additional categories of harmful content and I think we have an opportunity to include undisclosed digitally manipulated content on the basis that it is misleading and potentially harmful to users’ mental health.



“Social media can be a minefield for young people to navigate and I think it’s so important that we ensure they are looking at realistic representations of what real bodies look like and not airbrushed and photoshopped images trying to guilt and shame them into buying a product that will never make them look like the person in the photoshopped image.




“I think we have a great opportunity here to make social media a safer space for all and I will be making contact with Minister Martin to ask that manipulated social media advertisements be explored as potential harmful content under the OSMR Bill,” concluded Deputy Higgins.

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