Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an investigative piece, “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show,” which reported that Facebook’s own studies revealed that “[t]hirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” The studies also apparently showed that “researchers warned Instagram’s Explore page, which serves users curated posts from a wide range of accounts, can push users into content that can be harmful. The app also has a culture of posting only the best pictures and moments, and it operates as an addictive product.”
Those of us who have been monitoring social media from its beginnings are hardly surprised. We have warned politicians, the media, and parents repeatedly about social media’s dangers to all children, not just teen girls. Whether it is child predators who surf the sites children frequent or the online bullies and trolls who seek to ruin the lives of others, social media is a place best ignored by children. (It’s best ignored by adults, too, but that’s for another blog post.)
As welcome as it was to watch the media and the public tear into Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram for following the lead of tobacco companies by burying unfavorable research, there was also a disturbing element to the reactions to the data that was revealed.
Too many in the public (and the media) fail to recognize that Instagram and Facebook, and all other social media entities, exist SOLELY to make a profit. Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and every other head executive of a social media platform do not care how our children are adversely by their products. If they did porn would not proliferate as it does online. It’s all about ad sales. The goal of these firms, just like the goal of all firms, is profit. Period.
Yet, following the WSJ’s revelation there was a clamor calling for Instagram “to do better,” as if any social media companies are capable of policing themselves.
And don’t expect any help from Washington. In October 2020 the Associated Press reported that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated $400 million to local election offices to help them prepare for the November 2020 elections.
Do you really believe any politician is going to attack or punish Zuckerberg as long as he is tossing his millions to the political community the way an aquarium trainer tosses fish to seals?
Additionally, as long as Section 230 of the Communications Act remains as law, social media platforms are protected. Section 230 was originally created to protect the infant tech industry from liability from user uploaded content. It was a way to acknowledge that they were not “producing content”. Over the past two decades the tech industry has hidden behind 230’s protections to regulate content through its advertising practices and its active control of content streams to manipulate user emotions and ideologies. They’ve made billions in the process. Meanwhile, bills proposed by congressional members to change Section 230 have been weak and only address circumstances where media platforms are willfully or recklessly promoting or facilitating child exploitation, such as the most-recent bill proposed by Senators Loeffler and Cotton: The Holding Sexual Predators and Online Enablers Accountable Act.
Changes will come only if parents take control of the situation, which is something too many parents seem unwilling to do. Too many appear willing to outsource their responsibilities to institutions—whether they be governmental, organizational, or even corporate. We should be outraged by the duplicitous actions of Zuckerberg and other executives at Instagram, and we should hold them accountable. And the best way to do that is to accept our parental responsibilities and invoke our authority by pulling our children off these platforms. That is the only true way to protect our children. (And we’ll have the added benefit of watching the profit margins of social media platforms drop as more children are pulled away from their products.)
Sure, our kids will kick and scream and cry that we’ve “ruined their life,” but they’ll survive and even thrive.
It is up to us, parents. Dump those social media platforms now . . . before it is too late.