Social Media Reform Around the World: Protecting Youth OnlineAug 16, 2022
Social media is a powerful tool for learning and connection that is here to stay; what action, if any, should lawmakers and social media companies take to ensure that youth are protected from harm online?
Over 85% of all U.S. teenagers rely on social media to interact with friends and stay informed about global issues. Unfortunately, youth may be vulnerable to dangerous people and content online: 75% of the top social media platforms use AI to recommend kids’ profiles to strangers, leaving youth at risk of being approached online by adults impersonating peers. Additionally, children may be shown content online that promotes unhealthy behaviors or beauty standards. 1 in 3 girls reported that Instagram exacerbated their body image issues in an internal Facebook study last year.
Social media must be reformed to guard youth’s safety and privacy online: What steps can U.S. legislators take to regulate these massive platforms? Let’s look at what policies Norway and the U.K. have implemented to protect young users on social media.
In July of 2021, Norway passed an amendment requiring that influencers add a disclaimer to any retouched image they post online . Although this rule sounds simple (at its core, the decree calls for users to be honest when they edit a photo), it could go a long way toward dismantling unrealistic beauty standards that are promoted on social media.
By understanding how manufactured a social media post is, young users may refrain from engaging in harmful social comparison as they realize that comparing themselves to retouched photos is not accurate nor fair. As a result, hopefully, these users will be less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to fit an impossible ideal.
The UK implemented the Age Appropriate Design Code in 2020, a set of standards that requires companies to prioritize the privacy, safety, and wellbeing of kids when designing any digital product that UK children are likely to access. Specifically, the AADC restricts the collection and sale of children’s data and mandates that social media platforms must set the highest privacy settings on kids’ profiles by default.
The AADC also limits companies’ ability to profile young users (the practice of recording kids’ online behavior to recommend them targeted products/content). Platforms must prove that they have appropriate measures in place to protect children from the harmful effects of profiling, such as being fed content that is damaging to their wellbeing.
Since many commercially-successful social media platforms are characterized by their personalized algorithms, the AADC is making a big impact by forcing companies to prioritize youth safety, rather than sheer user engagement, in their platform design.
Youth Voice Matters
As social media remains an important tool for learning and connection, youth safety must be prioritized online. Today’s youth generation is the first to grow up with social media; we must share our experiences with social media so that lawmakers and social media executives understand the unique challenges we face (and protections we need) on these platforms.
As Norway and the UK lead the way in implementing policies to help youth stay safe online, hopefully similar safeguards will become the norm for children around the world. Call your local representatives or share your story as an #ICanHelp Students4Good panelist to connect with an international community of youth and educators invested in making social media a safe space for kids.
Interested in bringing digital wellness and digital citizenship education to your school? Check out our programming and courses to see how we can help your community embrace digital for good.
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