If you judged solely by news coverage, you’d think Facebook gets people upset more than it ever pleases them, but even by those standards, it’s rare that a product that has barely been mentioned by the company stirs up as much anger as the kids’ version of Instagram it’s working on.
This week, more than 40 US attorneys general added their voices to the swell of prominent people calling for Facebook to call the project off, “citing detrimental health effects of social media on kids and Facebook’s reportedly checkered past of protecting children on its platform,” as CNBC reported.
They might have something of a point. As Casey Newton and the Verge reported
An alarming new study has found that minors in the US often receive abuse, harassment, or sexual solicitation from adults on tech platforms. For the most part, though, children say they are not informing parents or other trusted adults about these interactions — and are instead turning for support for tech platforms, whose limited blocking and reporting tools have failed to address the threats they face.
Looking at it like that, ‘keep kids entirely off the internet’ may be many a parent or carer’s response. But the fact is that children under 13 want to use the internet, and they can get a lot of benefit out of understanding how social platforms work at an early age. What’s more, many of them are already using social media by entering fake dates of birth at signup.
How can we expect a 13-year-old to suddenly know how to use social media if they’ve never been trained to do so? And isn’t the alternative of unfettered and secret social media use for a 9-year-old even worse?
Helping pre-teens understand the intricacies of the online world is important. But putting Facebook in charge of that discussion might not get us very far. The messenger is often as important as the message, and in this case, I’m not sure the world is ready to listen to Facebook.