A little over a year ago, social media companies were put on notice for how they protect, or fail to protect, their youngest users.
In a series of congressional hearings, executives from Facebook (FB), TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram faced tough questions from lawmakers over how their platforms can lead younger users to harmful content, damage mental health and body image (particularly among teenage girls), and lacked sufficient parental controls and safeguards to protect teens, especially.
Those hearings, which followed disclosures in what became known as the “Facebook Papers” from whistleblower Frances Haugen about Instagram’s impact on teens, prompted the companies to vow to change.
The four social networks have since introduced more tools and parental control options aimed at better protecting younger users.
Some have also made changes to their algorithms, such as defaulting teens into seeing less sensitive content and increasing their moderation efforts. But some lawmakers, social media experts and psychologists say the new solutions are still limited, and more needs to be done.
“More than a year after the Facebook Papers dramatically revealed Big Tech’s abuse, social media companies have made only small, slow steps to clean up their act,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee, told CNN Business. “Trust in Big Tech is long gone and we need real rules to ensure kids’ safety online.”
According to CNN News, Alexandra Hamlet, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, recalls being invited to a roundtable discussion roughly 18 months ago to discuss ways to improve Instagram, in particular, for younger users. “I don’t see many of our ideas being implemented,” she said. Social media platforms, she added, need to work on “continuing to improve parental controls, protect young people against targeted advertising, and remove objectively harmful content.”
The social media companies featured in this piece either declined to comment or did not respond to a request for comment on criticism that more needs to be done to protect young users.
For now, guardians must learn how to use the parental controls while also being mindful that teens can often circumvent those tools. Here’s a closer look at what parents can do to help keep their kids safe online.
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