Are your kids truly safe on social media?
This is a question most parents have had to ask at least once or twice in their lives; and with everything going on recently, who can blame them? Dominating the headlines the past few weeks were the Facebook scandal where Cambridge Analytica mined data from Facebook users without their permission, as well as Melania Trump vowing to take on cyberbullying even thought she shares a roof with a person who constantly belittles and bullies people online. Even though Facebook and Twitter has been at the center of these controversies, it is important for parents to better understand how social media influences their children, especially with regard to cyberbullying.
I have been an avid user of social media from the days of MySpace until now. I have profiles on multiple platforms where I enjoy interacting with people from across the world, and share my life and special events with those who follow me. For the most part, I have enjoyed my experience, except for the occasional weird encounter, but this all changed 48 hours ago. I have recently started using Instagram, and as a whole it has been an interesting experience, but 48 hours ago a person using the pseudonym Ally started posting homophobic messages, that are clearly hate speech and of a bullying nature, on my profile.
“@therealprincecharming gays are cancers. And your body is full of F*** FAGGOT VIRUSES!!!!!!!!!” (1)
“@therealprincecharming What? You want to let viruses like gay spread all over the world. I mean you can say gay is the right of every human being and in a few years you will say pedophile is the right of every human being. legalize something sin and wrongdoing? you are really sick” (2)
Being an adult, I can fend for myself, and I do not put too much stock in what people like this think about me or my lifestyle, but I started wondering how these kinds of things influence younger social media users. My friends and I reported the user and the comments to Instagram, and I waited to see how long Instagram would take to help a user that was being bullied. To my surprise, 15 hours later, my friends and I got messages from Instagram stating:
“therealprincehcharming, thank you for taking the time to report cijeah24’s account. While we reviewed the account you reported for hate speech or symbols and found it does not violate our Community Guidelines, reports like yours are an important part of making Instagram a safe and welcoming place for everyone.” (2)
Saying that I was disappointed with Instagram’s response to cyberbullying would be the understatement of the year. Their lack of taking responsibility for their users could have real world consequences. Peng Hsin-y, aka ‘Cindy’ (a Taiwanese celebrity), committed suicide in April 2015 after being bullied online. A study done by the Child Welfare League Foundation (CWLF) in 2015 found that “approximately 74.1% of students considered online bullying a problem [and only] 43% of bullying victims sought help from website managers, teachers or professional counselors; 42% reacted by retaliating.” (3)
Statistics like these paint a dark picture of the world our youth is entering. According to the Instagram help website, Instagram requires their users to be aged 13 or older (4) but according to the Instagram application, it is “rated for 12+” (5). Even though this is a minor detail, how can we trust a company like Instagram to keep our children safe, when they can’t even agree on a common age across their own platform? The reason why age restrictions are so important is because young people absorb things differently than adults do. Whereas adults might brush off some negative comments, young people sometimes internalize it, which could lead to depression, anti-social behavior or even thoughts about committing suicide. How are social media companies keeping our youth safe?
I tried to contact Instagram via their own medium which didn’t work, so then I tried contacting them through Facebook by posting on their fan pages as well as tagging them in a comment with screenshots of the hate speech that I received. I have yet to receive a response other than the one mentioned earlier.
If there was an infant car seat out there that only worked 70% or 80% of the time, would you still take the risk of letting your child be strapped into it? If your answer is no, then why would you allow your child to be on social media, such as Instagram, where his/her mental wellbeing could be in danger? “Seven per cent of young social network users said they had been bullied on the Facebook-owned photo app.” (6) Even if your child gathered the courage to report the person bullying him/her, then what is the guarantee that Instagram would resolve the matter in a timely manner? Speaking from experience, I would not bet on it.
If someone is being bullied, regardless age or sex, it is the company’s responsibility to step in and put a stop to it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. So I will ask you again, “Are your kids truly safe on social media?”