Facebook whistleblower, health experts discuss social media's impact on kids

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Published Saturday, May 7, 2022
by Jonah Chester

(Virginia News Connection) Last year, a whistleblower at Facebook lifted the curtain on how the platform, and its sister companies, impact young kids' mental health.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, alongside teachers and health experts, is raising concerns about the long-term effects social media can have on kids. In an event this week hosted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), she described the corrosive effects social media have on kids' mental well-being as a public health crisis.

"If we hold children's toys to a product liability standard, where you need to demonstrate you did safety by design, why aren't we asking the same thing of these virtual products for children?" Haugen questioned. "Especially as we move into the land of the 'metaverse,' which is going to be an emergent harm."

Haugen argued social media companies should be held to Congressionally-mandated standards, an idea which has rare bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Meta, Facebook's parent company, contended it already has adequate internal safeguards and protocols.

Among other things, Haugen revealed leaders at Instagram, which is also owned by Meta, knew the platform's algorithm fed kids potentially harmful content, but opted to essentially double down in order to drive user engagement.

Dalia Hashad, director of online safety for the Washington, D.C.-based organization ParentsTogether, said such strategies have long-term consequences.

"Without fail, the longer a child spends online, the higher their level of anxiety, the higher the level of mood swings, aggressive behavior, feelings of worthlessness," Hashad outlined.

Dr. Warren Ng, president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, said having open lines of communication can help prevent issues before they arise. He explained it starts with simply asking kids how they're doing.

"And don't ask them in a way that 'You're OK, right?' No, really ask them, 'Things are really tough right now, how are you doing?' And really being open to that; but also being open to hearing not good news," Ng advised.

The AFT has an archive of previous webinars and educational resources for parents and teachers looking to provide emotional and psychological support for students.

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