Editor's note: Sydney Domke wrote the following piece as an assignment for her Shasta College English 1A course taught by Professor Lena Baker.
Eating disorders, kidnappings, depression, and extortion, these are just a few of the obstacles increasingly plaguing children and adolescents today. While change is inevitable and there are numerous small factors to consider, society’s dependence on constant social connection through social media sites is an indisputable link to these increasingly problematic issues. The rise of social media has brought detrimental harm to younger generations and proves that constant communication and connectivity may actually be the bane of society’s existence if steps are not taken to protect our youth.
The external dangers of social media are aplenty. While there are notable conveniences to instant world-wide connection, the dangers truly outweigh them. Many teens find themselves interacting with people they do not know on social media, and all too often the people they believe they are befriending are hiding behind false profiles. Predators are stealing pictures from other social networking users and using these photos to create a false identity, one that is much more appealing and non-threatening to lonely or curious minors. This deceitfulness can often be fatal as impressionable children and teenagers quickly find themselves in online relationships that have sprung out of what they believed to be companionship or a like-minded crush. For example, a 15-year-old girl in Maine was murdered after sparking a relationship with someone online based on an entirely false social media profile. As explained by David Sharp of the Associated Press, “Nichole Cable was allegedly killed by an acquaintance who used a fake profile to lure her from her home, then kidnap her in hopes of becoming a hero when he miraculously found her.” Similar situations are happening all too frequently; pre-teens and teenagers are diving head first into seemingly benign online relationships, and dangerous or mentally-ill adults are profiting from their innocent attempts at human connection.
Though social networking use may not always be fatal, predators still lurk frequently online looking for minors to prey on for sexual favors. Reports of sexual abuse stemming from online interactions are becoming more and more of a norm among adolescents. According to the FBI, “these social networking sites can be appealing to child sexual predators with all that immediate access to information on potential victims.” While online security and monitoring technology is increasing, the agency states:
we still receive hundreds of complaints per year about children who have been victims of criminal incidents on social networks. These incidents include but are not limited to: adults posting as children who are about the same age as the victim who later travel to abuse the child and adults posing as children who convince the child to expose themselves and/or perform sexual acts over webcam and later extort the child to perform additional acts. (FBI)
It is human nature to consider oneself or one’s child to be immune from this type of situation; however, these occurrences are happening at a staggering rate. As shown by a Turkish study among adolescents, “there was a reported rate of online victimhood as high as 27% and a rate of sexual abuse of 16% in females and 5% in males” (Kocturk 235). Though girls are statistically more likely to fall victim to these heinous acts perpetrated by heterosexual men, it is a large issue among gay or sexually-experimenting young people as well. Jack Turban, a reporter for The New York Times explains, “it is common for gay, bisexual, or questioning minors to go online to meet other gay people.” In Wisconsin, a 15-year-old boy was raped in his home after a 51-year-old man he had met on a gay hookup site had broken into his basement (Turban). Despite the efforts being made by agencies and organizations internationally, the threat of online predators is not retreating any time soon. While our technology for catching them continues to advance, so do their methods of contacting minors, making Internet safety a true cat-and-mouse chase. As social media jeopardizes the physical safety of society’s youth on a daily basis, even more prominent among children and adolescents as a whole is the threat to their developing minds.
Mental health issues among children of all ages have spiked world-wide, and there is a correlation between these ailments and increased social media use. Teenagers, in particular, are especially susceptible to social media triggered suicide as cyberbullying claims its rightful title as a virtual epidemic. In the article, “Cyberbullying: Its Nature and Impact in Secondary School Pupils,” cyberbullying is defined as, “an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself” (Smith). As they are subjected, adolescents find themselves battling fierce feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and shame. These feelings quickly become a dangerous poison for vulnerable minds. A large meta-analysis of adolescents found that being the victim of cyberbullying was more of a catalyst for suicidal ideation than traditional bullying: “cyberbullying has become so problematic that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has designated it as ‘a serious public health threat’” (Bering 82). While many families find themselves swiftly enveloped in the tragedy of teen suicide and cyberbullying, many adolescents are hiding in the shadows with a foreign kind of pain after finding themselves slyly gripped by an illness too problematic and dangerous to ignore.
Eating disorders have hit an all-time high among teenagers and young adults as many social media platforms are riddled with pro-eating disorder and pro-weight-loss material. In a recent study examining eating disorders and their correlation with social media, it was observed that Anorexia has reached an all-time high affecting 0.5-2% of people, a majority being girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 18 (Bert 233). Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), which is described in the study as “a group comprised of incomplete forms of Anorexia and Bulimia,” has a much higher rate of occurrence, affecting 4.78% of adolescents and 4.64% of adults (Bert 233). It is found to be that most persons with an eating disorder tend to keep their eating struggles concealed. The official report of the study goes on to explain, “this social isolation makes the Internet the perfect tool to search support and advice. The growing popularity of such content among young people is extremely concerning” (Bert 234). Though children and teenagers may not go looking for specific pro-eating disorder pages, many advertisements and influential social media users are paying money to boost their posts within the media platforms. These posts often flood the main pages of social media sites with stick thin women or marketing campaigns for various diets and supplements to aid with weight-loss. As the statistics show, these innuendos can be harmful to young social media users.
Because of society’s growing dependency on social media, action must be taken to combat the risks associated. We must take steps to protect the world’s youth from social networking induced psychological disorders and online predators for their sake and for the future of humanity. Given there are numerous organizations and government agencies working tedious hours in attempt to stop online predators and cyber-crimes as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of campaigns and charities to end media-promoted body-shaming and dieting, we must begin limiting exposure to such content and risk by limiting time spent on social media as well as educating older generations on how to adequately monitor children’s social media use and demonstrate appropriate technology usage. Apple Inc. has recently introduced a feature programmed into its newest iPhone system that tracks and categorizes the time one spends using Apple devices. Despite a plethora of corporations being concerned with revenue loss as a result of reduced consumer screen time, Apple’s recent programming move has dubbed them a sort of crown-prince among the frontier of ethicality and corporate accountability within the realm of technology and social media. An article by The Independent specifies, “one important group affected by the changes are children. Apple allows the Screen Time feature to be controlled within families-- meaning parents can set more limits for their children” (Griffin). When used as a supplement to standard parental control programs (software that allows parents to block and monitor certain web page usage), the Screen Time feature allows parents to double down on their monitoring of their child’s technology use and further ensure that their children are not in harm’s way virtually. While this is a huge step in the right direction, it is essentially useless without proper implementation from parents. Highlighted by Cherry Rushin in an interview with IT Specialist Weldon Floyd for The Graham Leader, “one in four kids have a smart phone, but many parents do not know how to operate one…You cannot put a device in their hands that you cannot operate” (Rushin 3A). Parents must have fair access to technology classes and informative meetings in order to further protect the lives of their children. Without these critical steps of education and monitoring, social media will continue to invade and contaminate the once coveted roles of innocence and intellectual freedom within the lives of society’s young.
Despite its conveniences, social media is quickly sinking its teeth into the necks of children and adolescents. The upward trend of technological literacy and corporate advocacy for monitored and limited screen time must continue in order to preserve the sponge-like minds of the world’s youth. The Internet is Big Pharma, and social media is but a new drug to which the side-effects are not entirely known. Awareness is growing exponentially around the social networking associated psychological risks and physical safety threats to minors, and it is time we must ask ourselves as members of society, is it all really worth it?
Bering, Jesse. "Web of Dispair." Psychology Today (2018): 82-88.
Bert, Fabrizio, et al. "Risks and Threats of Social Media Websites: Twitter and the Proana Movement." Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 19.4 (2016): 233-235.
FBI: FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: FBI: FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION. US Dept of Justice, 2018. Web. 12 December 2018.
Griffin, Andrew. iOS12: New iPhone Update's Screen Time Feature Horrifies People As They Discover What They Do On Their Phones. 24 September 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/ios-12-screen-timeiphone-update-latest-ipad-download-apple-a8553146.html
Kocturk, Nilufer and Fadime Yuksel. "A Modern Danger for Adolescents: From Online Flirtation to Sexual Abuse." Dusunen Adam: The Journal of Psychiatry and Neurological Sciences 31 (2018): 294-300.
Rushin, Cherry. "Program Teaches Internet Safety To Parents." The Graham Leader 137.71 (2013): 1A-3A.
Sharp, David. "Teens Wary of Social Media after Maine Homicide". Associated Press. 30 May 2013: n.p. EBSCO Host. Shasta College, Redding CA: The Associated Press. Web. 13 Dec. 2018.
Smith, Peter K, et al. "Cyberbullying: Its Nature and Impact in Secondary School Pupils." Goldsmith College, 2008. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01846.x
Turban, Jack. "Young, Gay, and Vulnerable Online." The New York Times. 14 June 2018.