October 1, 2022

Social Networks For Kids

My son recently asked his mom and me if he could setup an Instagram account. Nevermind that I just paid for a blog that he could use and he hasn’t touched it. I have to say, as someone who hasn’t posted much on Instagram in the past year and who barely ever gives the site any attention, I’m not inclined to grant his request.

I’m frequently beset by the idea that the worst thing a parent can do for a child is to be passive in the face of things that just seem like, well, bad ideas. Will it cause my son major harm to join Instagram? Probably not, but it’s hard to tell. Will it benefit him in any meaningful way? Again, the answer is most likely no. Ezra Klein writes for the NYT about how the medium really does matter when posting things online.

I think that’s true, but it coexists with an opposite truth: Americans are capitalists, and we believe nothing if not that if a choice is freely made, that grants it a presumption against critique. That is one reason it’s so hard to talk about how we are changed by the mediums we use. That conversation, on some level, demands value judgments. This was on my mind recently, when I heard Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who’s been collecting data on how social media harms teenagers, say, bluntly, People talk about how to tweak it — oh, let’s hide the like counters. Well, Instagram tried — but let me say this very clearly: There is no way, no tweak, no architectural change that will make it OK for teenage girls to post photos of themselves, while they’re going through puberty, for strangers or others to rate publicly.”

My feelings were further underscored after reading this post (via Simon Woods) from The BBC about a 14-year-old girl who was at least partially inspired to take her own life by content on social media. The coroner told the North London Coroner’s Court:

She died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.”

His narrative conclusion continued: Molly subscribed to a number of online sites. She had access to images, video clips and text concerned with self-harm and suicide, or that were otherwise negative or depressing in nature.”

As has been experienced by others, this is the case of someone who had negative emotions and they were exacerbated by an online community.” I’m not sure how many times we’ll have to read about a racist who was inspired by content on some obscure internet enclave shooting up a grocery store or a teen who commits suicide because of cyberbullying before we start putting real measures in place to prevent these things.

The word on the New York streets is that Meta is freezing hiring. This seems like a positive thing.


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