Facebook recently suspended its controversial project to develop a children’s version of Instagram, but minors 13 and older are still exposed to the dangers of social networks, as they spend long hours using it with little control, which raises the question. concern of parents and experts.
“In reality, the Internet treats 13-year-olds like adults,” says Josh Gulen of Fair Play, a non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting children from the ills of marketing campaigns.
“I don’t think many people think now is the right time to throw (the children) into the lions’ den,” he added.
It is believed that the Child Protection Act enacted two decades ago in the United States, which sets the thirteenth age of digital puberty, is no longer in step with the times, although it has become part of the custom. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, which are very popular with younger users, require users to be at least 13 years old.
On Thursday, US senators will ask Facebook’s lead user and child safety, Antigone Davis, during a hearing on the “negative effects of Facebook and Instagram.”
The controversy on this subject has been repeated a lot lately. But the waves of condemnation have reached their climax since the Wall Street Journal revealed that the giant social network was aware, through its own research, of the psychological damage that Instagram inflicts on teenage girls.
After this article, Facebook announced that it was looking for ways to combat the obsession with the perfect body, notably announcing that it has suspended development of a version of Instagram for children under the age of thirteen in order to organize consultations with experts.
However, the problem still exists for children already using social networks, according to Tristan Harris, president of the Center for Human Technology, who lists some of these problems, including “conceptualizing suicide, physical complexes, anxiety and depression”.
These potentially damaging effects of social networking are of particular concern to parents, as development of certain areas of the brain is incomplete in children in early adolescence, including especially the key areas associated with the ability to make decisions or control impulses.
American Mason Bogard died at the age of 15, days after he was found in a coma in a bathroom with a belt wrapped around his neck.
Her mother, Joanne, says her son died after trying to perform the “choking challenge”, a “game” that social networks have increased its popularity.
She explains that “children are not ready to face the things we find on the Internet”, adding: “They don’t understand what they are looking at and they don’t realize the gravity of it.”
Faced with shocking information about tragic incidents caused by popular social media challenges, cyber harassment issues and deteriorating mental health of users, opinions are divided among experts.
Some experts are calling for social networks to raise the minimum legal age for their use to 16, or at least make real efforts to enforce existing rules and prevent younger children from connecting to the network.
Facebook admits to including many children under the age of thirteen who lie about their true age among its users. He believes that this constitutes a further impetus for the creation of a platform dedicated to this category. For its part, Tik Tok has chosen to allow people of this age group to use its platform, provided they accept additional protections for data protection and confidentiality.
But at this point, and in the absence of a thorough examination of user identity, the responsibility rests primarily with the parents.
Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos tweeted that pre-teens “probably shouldn’t have phones, but parents always give them (…) Early teens probably shouldn’t be on social media, but their parents let them.
NGOs and companies are also unanimous on another point: in some cases social networks play a very positive role for adolescents, for whom online platforms, for example, open spaces for support to cope with their psychological problems.
But finding a balanced relationship with social applications remains a difficult task to achieve. And exposing children to the dangers of this virtual world at an early age is not helpful, according to Tristan Harris.
“The real problem is the economic model of the network,” explains Harris, “which is becoming more and more immersed in the brains of constantly declining users, such as tobacco producers who have done their best to make young people addicted to their products. Youngest possible age. “
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