Whether it’s for school, connection or fun, children are spending more time online than ever. While this time can be productive, helping to develop their knowledge of the world, it can also be detrimental, especially to the mental health of young children.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is increasingly concerned about the role social media companies and their algorithms are playing in children’s lives.
Children explore and test the limits of technology. Making sure they do it safely is what we need to spend our time on now. Whether it’s investigating social media platforms and their efforts to engage children or providing tools for parents and educators, we must put children first.
In November 2021, AG Miller joined other attorneys general in an investigation into Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) for providing and promoting Instagram to children and young adults despite knowing that such use is associated with harm to the public. physical and mental health. In March 2022, he joined a bipartisan group of AGs to investigate TikTok for similar issues. The group is looking into whether the company violated state consumer protection laws that put the public at risk.
As these investigations continue, Miller has made the topic of child internet safety a focal point during his year-long tenure as president of the National Association of Attorneys General and his presidential initiative, Consumer Protection 2.0: Tech Threats and Tools. The topic recently took center stage at the NAAG Presidential Summit in Des Moines, where several panels discussed how children are affected by technology and what lawyers and attorneys general are doing to bring the world online. a little safer.
Technology is not going away
“Kids are tech-savvy and they’re going to do things,” Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips said during a fireside chat at the presidential summit. “If your position is that we should ban children from the internet, good luck.”
A recent report by Common Sense Media found that in 2021, children aged 8 to 12 spent an average of around 5.5 hours a day online, while those aged 13 to 18 were online 8.5 hours a day. day, on average. Much of that time is spent scrolling through social media.
Common Sense Media found that one in five children between the ages of 8 and 12 use social media every day, while teens between the ages of 13 and 18 spend almost an hour and a half every day on social platforms. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are the main social platforms for both age groups.
With hours of their day spent online, it is now crucial that we turn our efforts to education, for parents, educators and children.
Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager for Facebook and became a whistleblower in late 2021, said the company prioritized profits over public safety. She focused on the impact of Meta’s services on the mental health of children and young adults.
During her keynote address at the Presidential Summit, Haugen discussed the algorithms used on platforms like Instagram, which she says can harm the mental health of children, especially adolescent girls. For example, Meta uses an engagement ranking that promotes content related to anorexia or eating disorders for users looking for an innocuous topic like healthy recipes, she said. Haugen said younger users should be able to unfollow this content and “reset the pattern without losing their friends.”
Haugen called for transparency and accountability in social media, allowing parents to know exactly how their children are being followed and how content is directed to them.
“What would social networks look like if we designed them with respect for autonomy and dignity?” she asked.
For example, the technology exists to slow down Instagram feeds as bedtime approaches, Haugen said, citing the detrimental effect of social media on children’s sleep.
The way algorithms are used has concerned attorneys general in recent years. As part of the November 2021 national survey of Meta and Instagram, Miller and other AGs are studying the techniques used by companies to increase the frequency and duration of engagement of young users and the harm resulting from a such extended commitment.
Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, reiterated many of Haugen’s concerns, adding that data collection for children is astronomical.
Citing one by SuperAwesome, a London-based company that helps app developers navigate children’s privacy laws, Golin said advertisers have more than 72 million data points on a 13-year-old child. .
“Platforms use this data to keep children online and on their platforms,” he said. “They provide content to keep kids online. That means more tracking, and that means delivering more personalized ads. It’s a circle.
In addition to tracking children’s activity to personalize content, social media and other digital companies use what they know about children to make money.
“All the damage is linked to the business model. Most content consumed by children is veiled advertisements,” Golin said. “The culture of influencers makes kids feel bad about themselves, and then there’s monetization in games. This creates inequalities with children.
Golin pointed to games like Prodigy and FIFA 2022, which require in-app purchases for the user to access new levels, certain players or activities.
“We found that in FIFA 2022, to get the best player, you had to spend $13,500,” Golin said. “Of course you could play for free points, but that would take three years.”
While we have more to learn about how social media platforms track users, including children, parents can reduce risk with these practices:
n Keep your child’s technology in a public place.
n Find apps and sites your child would like to see.
n Read the privacy policies of the sites, games and apps your child uses.
n Check your smartphone settings; disable location services and ad personalization.
n Adjust the privacy settings on your preferred Internet browser.
n The Federal Trade Commission suggests that smartphone users learn the tracking program for their devices. For example, Apple introduced a tracking control setting that requires app developers to ask for permission before tracking your activity on apps or websites. When you use an app, you may see a notice asking if you want to allow the app to track your activity. If you opt out, the app can’t access your device’s advertising ID.
n Maintain open communication with your child.
n Be aware of changes in your child’s behavior that could indicate a problem with online use. Make sure your child knows they can’t stay anonymous on the internet.
n Talk to your child about information that should never be posted online, and the dangers of posting too much personal information.
n Engage your child in ongoing conversations about what they see online.
n Set clear limits on the consequences of misusing the internet and apps. If you allow your child access to this technology, don’t threaten to take it down as punishment. This could prevent them from contacting you in the future about online issues.