Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Facebook's "Instant Addiction" Plan For Kids

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Facebook is building an Instagram for kids under the age of 13. 

In an internal memo, not intended for the public, executives at Instagram---which is owned by Facebook, said last week: "We have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list."

In 2017 Facebook launched Messenger Kids, a product aimed at children 6 to 12 years of age who, supposedly, had permission from their parents.

However, in 2019 it was discovered that a design flaw allowed the kids to sidestep their parents and the protection through group chats with unapproved strangers. Thousands of kids exploited that flaw and were chatting with people who were completely unknown to the parents.

Now they plan to introduce a new scheme, to attract kids 13 and younger---but child health experts are strongly opposed. 

Be informed, not misled.

What Zuckerberg is up to.

Buzzfeed News has obtained access to the memo.

The internal announcement comes two days after Instagram said it needs to do more to protect its youngest users. Following coverage and public criticism of the "abuse, bullying or predation" faced by teens on the app, the company published a blog post last Tuesday titled, "Continuing to Make Instagram Safer for the Youngest Members of our Community."

The current Instagram policy forbids children under the age of 13 from using the service.

While the public announcement does not directly mention the information on the internal memo, it lays the groundwork for a second attempt at building products that target your children.

There are a number of laws that limit how companies can target kids. Zuckerberg clearly sees your kids, or grandkids, as a viable growth segment for his social media empire.

He and his executives know that more and more kids want to use apps like Instagram and it was a challenge verifying their age, given they normally don't have identification documents until they are at least in their teens.

The problem with Zuckerberg's first attempt at our kids was that a design flaw allowed the kids to sidestep parental authority.

VERGE detailed the problem: 

In a standard one on one chat, children can only initiate conversations with users who have been approved by the child's parents. But those permissions became more complex when applied to a group chat because of the multiple users involved. Whoever launched the group could invite any user who was authorized to chat with them, even if that user wasn't authorized to chat with the other children in the group. As a result, thousands of children were left in chats with unauthorized users, a violation of the core promise of Messenger Kids.

Experts in children's health are very concerned about the whole matter of targeting kids.

Priya Kumar, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland who researches how social media affects families, said a version of Instagram for children is a way for Facebook to hook in young people and normalize the idea "that social connections exist to be monetized."

"From a privacy perspective," she says, "you're just legitimizing children's interactions being monetized" just like adults.

She also noted that "A lot of children either by choice or by accident migrate onto the broader YouTube platform. Just because you have a platform for kids doesn't mean they will stay there."

When Zuckerberg initially launched the flawed Messenger Kids, a group of more than 95 advocates for children's health sent a letter to Facebook Chairman Mark Zuckerberg calling for him to discontinue the product, citing research that shows "excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely the new app would undermine children's healthy development."

"Instant addiction."

Pediatrician Dr. Rosemary Stein contends, "There's really no way to protect children online from those who would do them harm."

She told One News Now, "I have so many concerns, I really don't know where to stop. This is really not a good idea. How do you filter people who aren't supposed to be on there? You can say you're anybody; you can say you're another child; you can use somebody else's identity to be a predator."

Dr. Rose, as she's called, says parental involvement may help to a degree if the parents are truly engaged, but there are a lot of moms and dads who are not engaged.

And she says "a child's brain isn't capable of handling social media."

She says, "This is causing instant addiction."

"Children are acting out, they think that the virtual world is the real world, they can't distinguish the difference between a friend on one of their social media platforms with making friends and talking to people eye to eye," she says.

She urges parents to speak up: 

"We need to communicate to Facebook that this is not alright. We need to tell them, 'If you're going to do this stuff, I'm going to stop subscribing to you. I'm going to make sure that I don't advertise with you. I'm going to to say no to my child'."

A Harvard Study agrees with Dr. Rose. They found that "Due to the effect that it has on the brain, social media is addictive both physically and psychologically. They found that self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance."

The takeaway.

It's difficult to tell your child not to spend too much time on the screen when you have your phone beside you at the dinner table checking it between each bite.

Lead by example. Break your own addiction. If you have one.

Be engaged. Know what your child is reading and watching. And never be afraid to say "no." And mean it.

And talk to your kids about God and His goodness. Psalm 78:4 says:

"We will not conceal them from our children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done."

Be Informed. Be Discerning. Be Vigilant. Be Prayerful.