I'm a Facebook and Insta user. I spend quite a bit of time sharing details of my life online, but I'm less certain that this is something I want to encourage my kids to do. When they are older, maybe; but right now I see only problems not advantages.
Since Facebook, the first social media platform that became really popular was created, there are now numerous social media platforms.
The proposition of each is tuned to particular types of users, they offer slightly different features and monetize (if they do) slightly differently.
From Insta to Pinterest, all offer ways to share with a network. The size of your network is up to you, but you can count on the fact that your data is used to run the network - whether you are aware of it or not.
MOST POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA platforms
DataReportal analysis shows that 3.96 billion people use social media today, accounting for roughly 51 percent of the global population.
Even though there are lots of social media platforms we typically only know about the top ten or twenty - and maybe only use a handful.
The world spends more than 10 billion hours using social media platforms each day (which is the equivalent of nearly 1.2 million years of human existence).
The social media landscape is now so complex and fragmented that it's often hard to tell whether something is a social media platform or not.
Many platforms have similar functions - like messaging or video - built into them so its hard to figure out exactly what something is: is it a social media platform that allows you to post video, or a video-sharing site that allows you to create a profile? This is a deliberate strategy by the companies that develop them: they are all competing for your attention.
Facebook 2.7 billion
YouTube 2 billion
WhatsApp 2 billion
Instagram 1 billion
Reddit 400 million
Pinterest 400 million
Twitter 350 million
Most popular social media platforms from Charts and Chill on YouTube.
Most social media platforms do not allow users who are younger than 13.
The origin of this age restriction is the US COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998) law, which made it illegal to collect or store the personal information of children under age 13.
But different countries treat this question differently. In Europe, most social media platforms have a minimum age of 16 to comply with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation Act) of 2018, but European Union member states can choose to set their own age limit at 13, 14 or 15 if they wish.
The real issue, as all parents know, is not a child’s chronological age but their maturity level. It's difficult to judge the precise age at which children have the social and emotional skills to cope with the demands of social media.
WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THEM?
Displaying an online journal of your life - and share that with your network.
Especially during the pandemic, staying in touch. Despite the many criticisms levelled at social media, for many people it is a lifeline.
Access to aligned services like the Facebook local marketplace.
The ability to be anonymous: platforms like Reddit or Twitter allow you to be who you want to be.
WHAT ARE SOME DOWNSIDES?
Dependancy. Many people find the always-on nature of social media can draw them into unproductive scrolling behaviour.
Fear of missing out. Insights into other people's lives while fun, can be demoralising, especially if you are isolated.
You are visible. And so, and especially for children, the possibility always exists to be targeted with unwanted contact, inappropriate content, social exclusion, threats and abuse.
Privacy. Many platforms have been accused of selling data about their users, targeting them with ads they don't want or tracking users' location.
Reputational damage. Although you can delete a post or image, someone can copy it and share it before you do. Photos, images and videos of you may be posted without your consent.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK?
Here are some questions you can ask about your own social media use that you can encourage your children to ask, too.
Who owns the service I am using and subscribing to?
Where is my data stored?
Who owns the rights to images and videos I upload?
What is captured by the service (location data, data on which websites I visit)?
What copyright laws apply to me?
What processes are there in place if my content is misused?
What is the complaints procedure?
If this is a free service, how does the company make money (e.g. through advertising)?
Is what they do in line with data laws where I live?
What is the level of my child's resilience to content they may see - for example inappropriate content or hate speech?
Do you have, and how do you communicate, rules and boundaries around social media, and is monitoring use appropriate?
What kinds of content do you think you and your children should share, how often and with whom?
Are you fully aware of the privacy levels and controls of this platform?
MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS - digital footprints
Everywhere you visit on the internet leaves behind a digital footprint. Webcrawlers and cookies provide records of online behaviour that are permanently recorded.
Social media platforms in particular contribute a lot to your digital footprint. These platforms know a lot about you already if you have created a profile.
Both for adults and children this is a seldom thought about hazard - but one that may turn out to be important in the future as more online content about you is stored and can be seen by employers, universities and anyone else.
MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS - ECHO CHAMBERS
The term echo chamber is taken from the field of acoustics. It describes what happens when sound is reflected back on itself in a space.
In the age of the internet, it means a closed system - like a social media platform - where opinions and beliefs amplify and are reinforced. Often those beliefs are radical, unpopular or controversial and gain credibility by being repeated. Opinions that are contradictory are never heard. By some estimates, over 60 percent of millennials use Facebook as their primary source for news.
Since social media encourages like-minded people to gather together. it can be easy to fall into an echo chamber without knowing it - and that can be a problem for both adults and children. It pays to be aware about the dangers of echo chambers and the need for people to be informed from multiple sources.
Watch this video from GCFLearnfree on YouTube about echo chambers.
MORE ABOUT SOCIal MEDIA - SOCIAL MEDIA AND LEARNING
Not all social media is about pure entertainment, procrastination or spreading unverified ideas.
In this short video from UQ's School of Education, Dr Simone Smala discusses the links between social media platforms and learning. She thinks that humans learn through situations, environments and actions that feel familiar and that social media can be an educational tool.