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Social media risks for people who have learning disabilities

Using social media presents opportunities for people with learning disabilities, but those supporting them must be alert to risks that include cyberbullying and exploitation

Using social media presents opportunities for people with learning disabilities, but those supporting them must be alert to risks that include cyberbullying and exploitation

Picture shows a young male holding a smartphone. This article reports on a study showing social media presents opportunities for people with learning disabilities, but those supporting them must be alert to risks including cyberbullying and exploitation
Picture: iStock

A review of papers on the use of social media by people with learning disabilities aged 11-31 found opportunities and concerns about vulnerability.

Positive findings included increased social interaction and participation, but risks included cyberbullying as well as financial and sexual exploitation.

The reviewers said consideration should be given to barriers to social media access, including the ability to read, understand and evaluate online materials.

They also pointed to opportunities to explore and develop a sense of personal identity in a setting where the label of learning disability does not overshadow wider aspects of the self.

Developing personal relationships and meeting sexual partners was also considered by the reviewers.

The reviewers report that social media has the potential to bring beneficial opportunities for social engagement, while also placing people with learning disabilities in situations where they may be vulnerable to being exploited.

Those supporting them need to be alert and prepared to respond to signs of exploitation, while also encouraging safe patterns of social media use, including embracing potential benefits with a positive risk-taking approach.


Research

Borgström Å, Daneback K, Molin M (2019) Young people with intellectual disabilities and social media: a literature review and thematic analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research. 21, 1, 129–140.


Dave Atkinson is an independent consultant nurse

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