The dangers of social media
Facebook privacy changes affect our youth
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 14:10
Facebook users can again feel leery of its privacy settings. It will now allow users ages 13-17 to share posts and information with people outside their friend network. And this is incredibly dangerous. But it is more indicative of an already pervasive problem for young people.
In today’s world, it is already very easy to divulge information via the Internet. And young people today are of a certain generation – the Internet generation. We, as college students, were in middle school when MySpace emerged and participated in the changing atmosphere of communication through social media.
What our generation has had to deal with are technological innovations that provide exposure for people to expose themselves.
The problem for a certain age group is that they have not yet reached a developmental stage in which they are fully cognizant of the consequences of their actions. And when kids share posts on Facebook, they will often “self-reveal before they self-reflect,” as Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, said on the PBS NewsHour.
We think this is unequivocal, but, sadly, recent changes in Facebook’s privacy settings only intensify this problem – it is a problem that is already there.
Twitter has been growing rapidly in recent years and more kids tweet information that could one day be problematic to a potential employer. And on Twitter, only a select few have installed the privacy option; most users allow their tweets to be seen by anyone.
As the presence of social media has become more ubiquitous in youth culture, a great deal of responsibility falls upon the parents to monitor their children’s actions. Parents need to explain to their children the way these outlets become a form of self-representation – it is an instrument that one can use to construct his or her own identity.
Children are not aware of this and will often act on impulse. The presence of parents in their lives can be a huge factor in ensuring that some preventive action is taken that can help children stay clear of potentially self-destructive behavior.
And it is also important to note that many specialists have deduced that these changes will help facilitate more cyberbullying. A middle-school-aged teenager might not realize the full implications of using the word “retarded” or making a derogatory statement of some kind to a classmate.
And it is well established at this point that abusive behavior on social media has induced suicide in some teenagers.
Public schools (and all schools for that matter) should conduct courses that elucidate the effects of social media usage. If a class can help one child learn, and help him or her avoid harmful behavior, it would be a success.
But what is important to note is that Facebook is making this most recent adjustment due to commercial imperative; they aren’t thinking about what is in the best interest of children.
Facebook is not an ordinary business. As it plunged its way into a global presence, it realized one way it could accumulate more revenue – through advertisements. Advertisers like having this large network of people who will literally declare what they like and don’t like. And this enables them to gather a more acute collection of statistics.
This most recent change elevates that marketing model.
Few people believe allowing teens to share their information with the general public is a good idea. Allowing teens to put out information that can be damaging to themselves or bullying to others, in a larger, public forum, makes the potential consequences much higher.
It also enables online predators to keep an eye on children easier.
For a long time, writers, philosophers and thinkers, in general, have wondered what exactly it is that causes a loss of innocence in young people. We don’t claim to have an answer to that age-old question, but we do believe the function of social media is making the age at which that occurs drop dramatically.
As we continue to notice more and more adjustments (one commentator noted that Facebook’s privacy settings are like the weather – constantly changing) to our social media landscape, we should remember the impacts they could make on our youth.
And executives at companies like Facebook should let that inform their decisions.