Secondary students regularly see ‘toxic’ content on social media, survey finds

More than two-thirds report using AI tools, with almost half using ChatGPT for school-related tasks

A large proportion of secondary school students see “toxic” content on their social media feeds which they consider offensive to women, homophobic or racist on a weekly basis, a survey has found.

The findings, based on an online poll of more than 3,700 secondary school students, also indicate that most parents do not set down rules over their children’s smartphone use.

The survey by online study tool Studyclix also details the negative impact of social media on students’ body image and increased use of AI (artificial intelligence) tools for schoolwork.

More than two-thirds reported using AI tools, with almost half using ChatGPT for school-related tasks. Many of those surveyed said they used the tool to create sample questions, plan work and generate ideas for essays in subjects such as English and history.


Luke Saunders, a former secondary schoolteacher and co-founder of Studyclix, said it was great students are using AI tools in a positive way.

“However, we’re seeing that a lot of students are not as creative as they were before the advent of these technologies. The default now is to look to these tools when faced with a problem, rather than think creatively and independently about a solution,” he said.

Overall, it found that more than three-quarters (80 per cent) of teenagers are worried they are using their phones too frequently.

Most students (79 per cent) said their parents allowed them to have their phones in their bedroom at night, while nearly two-thirds of students (64 per cent) are using their phones more than three hours each day, while more than a third (39 per cent) have four hours or more of screen time per day.

Snapchat was the most popular platform among those surveyed, followed by Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

While TikTok ranked fourth in terms of popularity, it accounted for the most screen time among users with four out of five users reporting spending at least an hour on the platform daily, with many logging usage far in excess of this.

In terms of content, just more than half of students see content they consider offensive to women on platforms at least once a week, while nearly half see content they consider homophobic or racist. A third of students (34 per cent) reported seeing anti-immigrant content.

Large numbers also said social media has made them worry about their body image.

More than half said they see Botox promoted at least once a month, while a majority see the promotion of fillers, plastic surgery and weight-loss supplements at least once over the same time frame.

In addition, six in 10 are seeing the promotion of dental procedures such as veneers and composite bonding on their social media once a month, while almost a third see ads for tanning injections.

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