Facebook had a rough week on many fronts, including the publishing of “The Facebook Files” by the Wall Street Journal, segments on CBS Sunday Morning, the revelation of on 60 Minutes of Frances Haugen as the whistleblower, and culminating with the testimony of the whistleblower before Congress.
Haugen alleges that Facebook knew that its platform and Instagram are harmful to the mental health of children. Facebook struck back by releasing internal research that disputes what has been called a “meticulous” gathering of internal documents by Haugen.
The lead-up to this drama (which will no doubt be a movie someday) reminds me of other instances of when companies have internal research showing that aspects of their product may be harmful, yet continuing to offer the product to consumers, such as tobacco and lead pigment in paint. Don’t get me started on lead paint! I spent three years of my professional career learning all about lead paint. It took many years for laws and regulations to catch up to how those products harmed kids and adults (lead pigment in paint was finally outlawed in 1976, though there was research that showed lead pigment was harmful to health decades earlier), and technology is changing even more rapidly.
No matter how the controversy with Facebook and Instagram plays out, the revelation of the research by both Haugen and Facebook is worth considering, especially if you have children. Don’t wait for Congress or state legislatures to regulate what may be harmful to your kids. You talk to them about the hazards of smoking, drinking, drugs, driving while under the influence, and other risky behavior. Similarly, talk to your kids about their online activities, including how they use Facebook and Instagram and how they can limit their use and exposure.
According to Haugen, “Kids are saying ‘I am unhappy when I use Instagram and I can’t stop. If I leave, I’m afraid I’ll be ostracized.’” Find out what mental health professionals are suggesting about how to talk with your children about their use of social media, then include some of those helpful hints when chatting with your kids about their online and social media activity. Included here are tips from one mental health professional.
The message here is that we are all in this together. Some of us are dependent on social media and online activities, which have become a part of the fabric of our lives. We need to understand the potential harm in our social media use, take responsibility for it, and determine how we will minimize the risk to ourselves and our children, just as we do with other products that may be harmful to us.