The dangers of social media: experts give advice on how to stay protected, while being connected
In today's digital world, there are more ways than ever to stay connected and be social, but experts are warning that some social media content can have a negative impact on young people.
According to digital anthropologist Giles Crouch, there’s a good and bad side to all technologies.
"That's been the way throughout history. Fire is good but it can also burn your house down. It's a technology that we've harnessed,” said Crouch. “Social media is the same way."
Facebook has been in the news a lot lately, answering to claims by whistleblowers that the social media giant prioritizes growth over safety.
This week, top executives from other social networking sites like YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok were also in the hot seat, answering questions in front of the U.S. Congress about what they’re doing to ensure children are safe on their sites.
"Social media companies are the 21st century's big tobacco,” said David Shipley, a technology and cyber security expert and the CEO of Beauceron Security.
“It’s not the experience that you’re seeing on the surface that’s the risk. It's the supercomputer and the algorithm behind the scenes that's making the choices about what content you see and when,” adds Shipley.
He believes certain ages should not be on social media.
"I think under 13, parents should have a hard look, ok, is this what we want to be exposing our children to because, remember that's a whole world of potential predators that are out there on these platforms as well. So not only talking about the algorithm as the threat but here are just awful human being out there on the internet as well,” said Shipley.
Psychologist Danya Lee-Baggley said there are some advantages to social media.
"You can get connected with people that you might not have locally so for people, LGBTQ or other groups who don't feel they have people they can connect with who understand them, connecting with people online is an option,” she said.
Crouch said social media can be good for young people to socialize but that it can also have an influence on their lives.
"We know from the research that Facebook has done and tried to bury, that images on Instagram and Facebook do influence not only what kids will wear and how they will dress, but also diet and that's been a big stress point for teenagers, especially young girls, in seeing these carefully curated images and thinking that's the way I need to look,” said Crouch.
Lee-Baggley said there is a lot of research showing social media can be harmful for youth.
"There are studies showing that it can increase your depression, issues like body image, eating disorders, there's been some studies where actually they did an intervention and took people off social media and their depression got better as a result of getting off social media,” she said.
Social media isn’t going away. But experts say some of the problems can be fixed.
"There should be meaningful laws passed, not to regulate what average citizen x posts on Facebook but to regulate that algorithm and find out exactly what it's doing and how it's impacting people,” said Shipley.
"We got to work with the social media companies, government and civil society groups who will all come together to figure out how do we fix this problem, how do we address it and we'll develop regulations and policies and ideas on how to fix it,” added Crouch.
Crouch also encourages parents to have an open dialogue with their kids, and teach them that not everything they see on social media is real, and that there are consequences to what you post online.