Tech & Media

Social Media Is Designed To Lure You In, But Will It Protect Your Kids When They’re There?

Oct 14, 2021

I am not afraid to say I look forward to the future.

With each passing day, I grow older, but I also become more confident that my daughter will grow up in a much more mindful world.

I see progress, even where the steps are tiny.

Take a look around, and you’ll see what I see: different people, great art and endless beauty.

If you leave yourself open to the positive changes occurring on the planet, it’s less challenging to see the outlook as bold and bright.

But then the other shoe drops. And it always does.

Natalie Romero approaches TikTok with caution. So much so, her home is completely TikTok-free.

A Social Media Problem

When I see people like Frances Haugen taking center stage to really draw back the curtain on social media, I am reminded that progress takes time — and it takes planning, and it takes some challenges to overcome.

Personally, I do my best to look away from the antics of Facebook, but it isn't always possible.

See: When the January 6 insurrection came, followed by the misinformation vacuum that included, you guessed it, anti-vaxxers and the grifts that prey on people who wheel and deal in suspect news.

Fool’s in Session

As I see it, this is foolishness begetting foolishness.

I don't blame people for not making the best decisions, but for me, giving people with harmful ideas the ability to coordinate and do real and lasting damage is a problem.

"Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, right?"

Many of us know that, and yet the hose seemingly continues to flow despite what appears to be a drought of safeguards to protect people.

Yet with all this in mind, I still preferred to look away.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, right?

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

What Haugen shared about the company she previously worked for was too much for me to ignore.

In my mind, Facebook has always been bad. I don’t socialize this way, and I certainly don’t get all of my information in an echo chamber.

But I was even more disgusted to learn how bad it has gotten. For teens.

The first thing that hit me was that Haugen kept using the word “safer” and not “safe.”

"But what happens when no one tells you what you’re doing is associated with big risks?"

When we are talking about my child, I want to hear the word “safe” and not “safer.” I can only assume many parents would feel the same way.

As I see it, everyone deserves the opportunity to assess risk and then choose whether or not to engage in an activity. 

But what happens when no one tells you what you’re doing is associated with big risks? Big risks, for example, that management was allegedly privy to but did nothing about. Risks that the average consumer couldn’t possibly be expected to know without some education.

Who then is accountable?

Every parent's approach to social media is unique. Debbie King's 8-year-old daughter requested an Instagram account, and her mom agreed: with some guidance.

What Did They Know?

I was also distressed to learn that, according to Haugen’s claims, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook as a company were aware of everything that she leaked.

The leak, which included this frightening note: according to an internal study, 17 per cent of teen girls said it makes eating disorders worse. And if that isn’t chilling enough, 13.5 per cent of teen girls claimed Instagram makes suicidal thoughts worse.

As a parent, that’s essential information. Not something that should be gatekept.

A Playground of Ideas, No Matter How Dubious

I’m aware that Facebook is a massive, global communication tool that many people rely on, which is what makes this whole situation even more tragic to me.

The user is simply a pawn.

A pawn whose usefulness is solely based on behaviour, and how relevant they are to a company to sell ads against.

This is corporate greed; profits over people. And to think they were readying an Instagram for kids.

I’m Not an Idiot

My daughter is nine and an only child. She is bright, sociable and loves computers. There is no way she is going to turn down social media once she gets her first taste. I can try, but I am no fool.

So, what do I do?

Am I supposed to forbid my daughter from ever using social media? Am I supposed to just let her go and hope congress passes viable legislation?

"I remind her every day that what happens on YouTube is predominantly fake, designed for entertainment."

Well, I plan to do neither.

As much as I am betting that my daughter will eventually be on social media, I am also betting that the talks we have will make her skeptical. I remind her every day that what happens on YouTube is predominantly fake, designed for entertainment. (At least the nonsense she watches.)

I remind her that many people and companies on the internet only really want one of two things: your money or your personal information (personal data, which is essentially money).

So, I tell her never to reveal her identity on the internet.

You’ll notice I don't even write her name in the articles I write about her.

Given our emotional connection as of late, I can at least rely on an active listener and an open heart when it comes to these headier subjects. She can rely on me for that, too.

When Laura Mullin's daughter was in Grade 7, she had her sign an instacontract before using the app.

Personal Responsibility Isn’t Enough

I can set up my kid with the building blocks of media literacy, but like climate change, personal action only amounts to so much of a shift.

The tech world could better serve its users if it faced tougher legislation, which is I suppose the whole point of the investigation into Facebook. If there is private information that suggests harm is being caused to teens, and no one acts on it, the creators must be culpable.

I want to see jail time, not technocratic hand-holding.

"I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she’s disposable."

If I’m responsible for educating my child about social media harms I wouldn’t have known about had it not been for a leak by a well-meaning former employee, swift and resolute action needs to take place for the service providers who sat by idly. Collective action will change the present tide. 

When news of Amanda Todd surfaced, I promised I would never forget. And I haven’t. That was nine years ago, but have there been enough improvements since then to protect young people from harm? Based on recent revelations, I’d say no.

With this fresh evidence dump from Haugen, it can feel like losses like Todd are just looked at as a loss of ad revenue for a company, rather than an actual life.

I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she’s disposable. That her life only matters when she has money to spend.

So, I’m prepared to keep the lines of communication open as best I can, no matter how difficult the challenges that may arise.

Article Author Quentin Janes
Quentin Janes

Quentin Janes is an aspiring novelist living on the banks of the Rouge Valley in Toronto.

He spends his time raising his beautiful daughter and solving the problems of the world from the safety of his computer chair.

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