MUST READ from the newsletter NumLock News:
A Wall Street Journal investigation set up a dozen automated accounts registered as 13-year-olds on TikTok, and found that after programming the bots to briefly pause on content related to weight loss, the app’s algorithm began to serve up an onslaught of fasting, crash dieting, and eating disorder content.
Out of 255,000 videos served up, the algorithm threw 32,700 weight loss videos at the bots from October to early December. A third of the weight loss videos — 11,615 videos — offered up by TikTok to the bots were about eating disorders, and 40 percent of those — 4,402 videos — made disordered eating appear normal.
As you probably know, similar activity has been identified on Instagram as well.
This is an important reminder:
For all of the lessons we offer to our children in terms of the online predators, internet trolls, and other nefarious online entities, the platforms themselves are just as dangerous.
Think of it this way:
If the internet is the African savannah, the lions and the hyenas are the internet predators and trolls, looking to do your children real harm, but the savannah itself is also trying to swallow them up whole.
Worst of all, you can’t see it happening. You don’t even know it’s happening. You’re walking along, scanning the landscape, thinking it’s clear of predators, then you’re suddenly devoured by the very land you’re walking upon.
As I explained to one student who referenced the hazards of violent video games, “When you purchase a violent video game, at least you know what you’re getting. I’m not saying I approve, but at least you knew the game was going to be filled with guns and explosions. Forewarned is forearmed.”
With platforms like TikTok and Instagram, children are being seriously harmed without anyone even knowing it. These companies are profiting off children by sending them content designed to hold their attention.
Unfortunately, that content is also seriously damaging to our kids.
In many ways, these social media platforms are the lead paint of the twenty-first century:
Permanently damaging our children right under our noises, yet most of us are entirely unaware of any of it.
Clara and Charlie don’t yet own phones, but Elysha and I are already talking to them about the dangers of social media. We want them to know how companies will attempt to profit at their expense. We want them to understand how these platforms are exceedingly effective at making people – and especially children – feel terrible about themselves. We want them to understand the meaningless, ephemeral nature of these services long before they ever experience them firsthand.
Forewarned really is forearmed.
If your child has a phone of their own or regular access to platforms like TikTok or Instagram, I urge you to have those same conversations. Tell them about the Wall Street Journal’s findings. Be honest and upfront about the dangers they face.
Also, try like hell to limit your children’s exposure to this content.
Your children may complain that they are the only kids at school without phones or access to these services. When they do, pop open a bottle of champagne and congratulate yourself.
You deserve it.
Your kids will be fine. In fact, they will likely be better than fine given the decisions you’ve made to keep this dangerous, nefarious, disastrous world away from them as long as humanely possible.