Facebook founding president warns of platform’s influence on kids and adults
Social media alert from an unexpected source
It doesn’t surprise us at all to hear mums and dads express their concerns about the effects of social media and mobile phones on their kids behaviour. We hear it all the time. We’re not especially surprised when our schools get concerned about excessive screen time and recommend a digital detox for both our kids and us! Screen time is an issue that’s been raised in a lot of parenting and education forums. It’s a little less typical however, to hear such concerns coming directly from the mouth of one of social media’s key architects.
Sean Parker is not only Facebook’s founding president, but has also founded or funded a wide range of other networking and music sharing services. Despite his prominent role in the development of the very idea of ‘social media’ as we know it today, in a recent interview he admitted that he wasn’t aware of the consequences that such networks existence would have. He notes that when they contain billions of members, a social media network “literally changes your relationship with society, with each other.” In particular he pointed to children as an at-risk group of users, saying “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”.
Facebook founding president warns of cynical time targeting
For Parker, it seems that his words are simply a matter of fact. Not necessarily a cause of regret. But he notes what many of us have long known, that Facebook’s addictive, time wasting qualities are a deliberate feature, central to the product’s design, not a byproduct of it’s functionality. The engineers and designers behind social media platforms ask themselves, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”. With this goal in mind, tricks such as the use of notifications with variable rewards and the “social validation feedback loop” of sharing content to earn likes become ways of “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”.
Given this frank examination of the underpinnings of social networks, it’s no surprise to learn that Parker himself no longer uses social media as it’s “too much of a time sink”. He then went on to make a conflicting statement, that “I use these platforms, I just don’t let these platforms use me”. Whether he uses them or not though, this interview highlights that he considers them to be influential and manipulative over both individuals and communities. And that we should exercise caution when engaging with social media and teach our children to do the same.
Whether you think Parker’s “revelations” are a big deal or not, they’re a timely reminder that social media does influence our kids lives (as well as our own) and that a deliberate approach to their use is advisable. Of course we don’t want our teens missing out on the opportunities that social media can provide them, but at the same time we don’t want them to fall victim to manipulative time wasting tricks either.
Making social media better
Is there anything we can do to make social media safer and more beneficial for our kids? Screen rules in general are great tool to help us become more self-disciplined users. They work both for kids and adults. Parental control software can help to apply such rules more effectively. We also need to help our kids to become more responsible and confident users and teach them basic social media etiquette and good practices regarding use of privacy settings on Facebook.