“The question that haunts me is, ‘How can we or parents or anyone trust Facebook?'” asked Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal on Thursday.
Blumenthal is the chair of the Commerce Committee’s consumer-protection panel that spearheaded the Senate hearing on Sept. 30.
The panel met to discuss what is seen by members on either side of the political aisle as the dangerous influence of social media upon teenagers’ mental health and wellbeing.
The Senate’s panel hearing came just days after Facebook announced its decision to put a halt on developing a new version of the Instagram app specifically geared toward minors under the age of 13.
Sen. Ed. Markey, another Democrat on the panel, likened Instagram to early substance use, such as tobacco, getting “teens hooked early.”
“Instagram is worse than a popularity contest in a highschool cafeteria because everyone can immediately see who is the most popular or who is the least popular,” Sen. Markey said.
A recent testimony released by CNN revealed that parent Sabine Polak received a concerning call from her 14-year-old daughter’s counselor.
“I was completely floored,” Polak, 45, said. “I had no clue she was even feeling remotely down at all. When I asked her about it, she just kept saying she wanted to get away from it all … but I didn’t know what that meant.
“It became really addictive [for her] — the sense that you always have to be on, and always have to be responding to someone in order to be seen or to exist,” she added. “She would look at her phone and go from calm to storming out of the car, and the rest of the night, just curled up in her bed.”
Movieguide® previously reported on the obvious correlation to depression and suicide and social media:
Louis Appleby is a professor at the University of Manchester and leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England. Appleby conducted a study between 2014 and 2016 where he investigated the clinical reasons behind suicide. The Telegraph relays the findings, “the research into 595 suicides by young people aged under 20 showed 128 had used the internet in a way that was suicide-related.”
Appleby notes that although many cases for self-harm are spurred by poor health, bullying, school-related anxiety, and relational stress, social media is normalizing self-harm further. Appleby also found that financial and emotional deprivation was also a cause. “It [self-harm] becomes something that transmits across the subculture of young people, it becomes part of how they talk about their lives, how they talk about stress, and how they expect to respond when stresses occur,” Appleby said.
Of his findings, Appleby states, “If social media fuels that with images or just through the general discussion that can take place on social media, that’s a real reason to be concerned about it.” He goes on, “it would mean we are in danger of brewing up a suicidal generation, who at the moment are harming themselves non-fatally, but as they get older, they might be more suicidal with a fatal outcome.”
The media’s profound impact on children cannot be ignored by parents, educators or lawmakers. Many lives are at stake.
Despite feeble attempts by Facebook to protect children on their social media platforms, confiscating the phones will not solve the problem either.
“I’m saddest when I look on Twitter and people blame the parents for these problems with Facebook. They say, ‘Just take your kid’s phone away.’ But the reality is that it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Haugen said in her testimony to Congress.
“Very rarely do you have one of these generational shifts where the generation that leads, like parents who guide their children, have such a different set of experiences that they don’t have the context to support their children in a safe way,” she added. “We need to support parents. If Facebook won’t protect the kids, we at least need to help the parents support the kids.”
Facebook, which rebranded to Meta in late 2021, implemented some parental controls after the leaked documents.
Facebook and Instagram, notorious for their business models designed to keep their users engaged, said that the apps will now “nudge” users to remind them to take a break from social media.
In addition, the company said that they are adding new controls for adults to help parents supervise what their children are doing on social media platforms.
Despite Facebook vocalizing various efforts to dispel claims by Haugen and others in regards to online safety, child safety advocates and other media watchdogs are skeptical that Facebook will uphold their alleged amendments to their platform.
Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a watchdog for the children and media marketing industry, noted that more parental controls mean little when most underage accounts are set up in secret.
“There is tremendous reason to be skeptical,” Golin said.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told CNN: “I appreciate that he is willing to talk about things, but I believe the time for conversation is done. The time for action is now.”
The hot-button issue has united members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who are passionate about protecting children’s mental and physical health. But some responsibility rests on parents’ shoulders to exercise media discernment.
“You can offer tools to parents and you can offer them insights into their teen’s activity, but that’s not as helpful if they don’t really know how to have a conversation with their teen about it, or how to start a dialogue that can help them get the most out of their time online,” Vaishnavi J, Instagram’s head of safety, told CNN Business.
“The pandemic has certainly accelerated some of the threats and dangers that we’ve been dealing with for years,” Marc Berkman, CEO of the Organization for Social Media Safety, told CNN.
Some data also support that mental health issues among young people on social media are on the rise. Bark, a paid monitoring service that screens social media apps, personal messages and emails for terms and phrases that could indicate concerns, said it saw a 143% increase in alerts sent around self-harm and suicidal ideation during the first three months of 2021 compared to the year prior. (Parents receive alerts when Bark detects potential issues, along with expert recommendations from child psychologists for how to address them.)
“Our children’s lives are buried deep within their phones and the problems live within their digital signal in places that parents don’t go,” said Titania Jordan, chief marketing officer of Bark. “If you’re not spending time in the places where your children are online, how can you be educated and then how can you give them guidance?”
“It has always taken a village to be the best parent you can, and while we’re waiting on legislators and Big Tech to do the right thing, at the end of the day, nobody is going to be a better parent for your child than you. The best thing that you can do is learn from other parents who have been there and done that, both their mistakes and their wins,” Jordan Titania, chief marketing officer of Bark, said.
Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist in New York City, added: “If we can teach and support our children to use the same skillsets to navigate each world, we increase our chances of attaining mental health.”
Since You’re Here…
We’re sustained by donations averaging about $25. Only a tiny portion of our readers give. If everyone reading this right now gave $7, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. That’s right, the price of one movie ticket is all we need. If Movieguide® is useful to you, please take one minute to keep it online and growing. Thank you.
Movieguide® is a 501c3 non-profit and all donations are tax-deductible.