It has not been a good week for social media.
High profile ex-tech workers concerned about the harm that social media can do to young children have formally joined forces to challenge the companies they help built, reports CNBC.
And Facebook execs were criticized at a conference arranged by James Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit promoting safe technology and media for children.
If you have a teenager in your home who barely acknowledges your presence due to a social media habit, you’ll be doubly concerned by Facebook’s new social media app for children under 13.
Common Sense, the leading advocacy organization for kids in the digital age, and the Center for Humane Technology, an organization of tech insiders committed to realigning technology with humanity’s best interests, this week announced a new campaign to protect young minds from the potential of digital manipulation and addiction.
The campaign, called Truth About Tech, will put pressure on the tech industry to make its products less intrusive and less addictive.
Common Sense’s CEO, James Steyer, has warned that tech companies’ attention-grabbing business models may hurt “the social, emotional and cognitive development of kids”.
He told The Guardian: “When parents learn how these companies can take advantage of our kids, they will join us in demanding the industry change its ways and improve certain practices.”
In a closely connected development Facebook’s announcement of its latest product for under thirteens has also met with swift condemnation.
These days it is common to see a young child fiddling with a smartphone or a tablet. And now Facebook has introduced a messaging app especially for children under the age of 13: Messenger Kids.
This while we are all well aware of research that shows that digital technology affects our brains. Thing is, the brain is most malleable when we are children, which increases the potential dangers for youngsters.
This latest stunt by the tech giant has been met with swift, angry reaction from dozens of pediatric and mental health experts, concerned citizens, educational organizations and media concerns.
In a letter addressed to the CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Campaign for Commercial-free Childhood make their objections clear.
“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users.
“They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos.
You may wonder why this should concern you.
Thing is, damage on a large scale has already occurred. Our teenagers live desperately unhappy lives largely due to the influence of social media in their lives.
They are addicted to their screens — imagine the level of addiction if you start with a social media habit at six!
We already sit with the enormously negative effect of social media on adolescents. The last thing we need is the same endemic ill effects on children as young as six.
Social media use by teens is linked to a number of problems – they suffer from high levels of depression and adolescents who spend an hour a day chatting on social networks report less satisfaction with nearly every aspect of their lives.
Social media is a sneaky capture of our attention, of our minds.
Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist and founder of the Center for Humane Technology, illustrated the addictive nature of social media apps to The Guardian with Snapchat streaks as an example.
“Snapchat streaks shows the number of days in a row that each teenager has communicated with each friend. It creates this false sense of, ‘I’ve got to keep this thing going’,” he said. “It starts to really go deep into them and actually redefine their identity and their meaning of friendship. They think that they’re not friends if they don’t keep that streak going.”
This is just insane. These kids have no idea what real friendship is.
Pressure against tech companies and their social media platforms is building from all sides.
Last month at the World Economic Forum, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff called for social media to be regulated like a cigarette company because of the addictive and harmful properties of social media, Business Insider reported.