Learn more about the various social media-related dangers:
About 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people being mean or cruel on social networking sites. Approximately 34% of students report experiencing cyberbullying.
Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online. About 53% of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.
Social media has been infiltrated with propaganda by a hostile foreign government in an attempt to influence our democratic elections. On Facebook alone, Russian-influenced content reached 126 million Americans between June 2015 and August 2017.
A whopping 82% of child sex crimes originate from online social media sites where predators gain knowledge of their victims’ likes and habits.
Depression And Suicide
In 2018, the average teen spent 9 hours a day online. Teens using social media more than 5 hours daily were 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
About 64%of U.S. teens have encountered hate speech online.
Our Most Viewed Tips
It is simple. It is intuitive. It can make social media safer for us all. But, most adults and teens are not doing it: blocking and reporting obscene, hateful, and threatening content.
Cyberbullying, hate speech, sexual harassment, propaganda are just some of the social media-related dangers that come in the form of posts, comments, or messages.
To be clear, the harm this content can cause is severe. Ten percent of cyberbullying victims attempt suicide. Social media-spread hate speech has spurred horrific mass shootings. And, propaganda has the potential to fundamentally undermine our democracy.
In theory, we should have more control over these dangerous posts, as all social media content exists entirely by the consent of the social media platform. That means that the content can be de-emphasized or removed. And, the poster can be hidden from individual feeds or removed from the platform altogether. Ultimately, if the platform can quickly remove harmful content, the platform can limit its harm. And, if the platform can remove or deter offenders, especially repeat offenders, the platform can prevent harm altogether.
That is why we emphasize to teens and parents the importance of developing a habit of reporting harmful content to the platform and then blocking the offender from their own social media pages. By blocking and reporting harmful content, we can not only protect ourselves, individually, from dangerous content, but, through reporting, we can do our part to make the entire social media community safer.
Unfortunately, blocking and reporting will never be a complete remedy:
- Reporting problematic content does not always result in having the content removed from the platform.
- Platforms’ guidelines for removing content can vary widely.
- Reporting will not completely stop determined, sophisticated actors, especially those using bots, that conceal their identities online for the purpose of spreading harmful content.
But, even though blocking and reporting are not complete defenses against social media-related dangers, they are still very important actions to undertake. Not only does the habit of blocking and reporting help the platform remove unscrupulous or dangerous users but it also encourages us and our teens to habitually look at content critically instead of mindlessly consuming and absorbing. One of the biggest dangers we face from hateful or obscene content is that it becomes normalized and no longer shocks our collective conscience. By actively engaging their minds and being on the lookout for inappropriate or dangerous posts when scrolling through social media, our teens are constantly defending their minds from racism, misogyny, homophobia, and propaganda.
That is why the importance of blocking and reporting should be one of the first conversations you have with your teen when you allow them into the world of social media.
We know that it is very challenging to teach teens about both the lack of privacy and the permanence of their messages, posts, DMs, tweets, and snaps. But, we have a way that will help you teach them….
As we remind you often, your teens are on their phones and social media on average 9 hours a day. That time is spent posting on Snap and Insta, tweeting, and sending messages on WhatsApp or Discord. Eventually, those all become thousands of communications over millions of minutes.
With all those communications over all that time, conversations via social media become very normal and habitual for teens. This normalcy can eventually lead the teen to a false expectation of privacy and a disregard for the permanence of digital messages, concerns we typically do not have when we engage in direct verbal conversations.
So, even if most teens who enter the world of social media start off with strong habits and a firm understanding of what they should and should not be communicating via social media, time can naturally create bad tendencies or carelessness. Their social media communications may eventually come to contain angry sentiments, hateful comments or inappropriate attempts at humor, private confessions and admissions, and messages of a sexual nature. Eventually down the line, most of us, not just teens, will be reminded that the privacy we thought we had on these platforms is illusory, and the inappropriate joke we messaged out so long ago will come back to haunt us.
Young adults just joining the world of social media and texting need an ongoing reminder that (1) anything they do on their phones is NOT private and (2) is likely permanent. Many parents pass on this message to their children when handing over the phones initially but time weakens the lesson. (This, by the way, is true for adults as well….)
What You Can Do
First, consider having that initial conversation when you hand over the phone to your child that what they post on social media and message over their phones is not private and likely permanent. Then consider having that same conversation at least yearly as a reminder. And, then on an ongoing basis, be on the lookout for any real-life cases you can share with your teens to serve as actual examples of the dangers associated with careless texting and posting.
Second, we recommend physically taking the phone from your child to conduct an inspection every month or every other month. To be clear, taking the phone for a physical inspection is NOT an invasion of privacy. In fact, the whole point of this exercise is to reinforce that you are not invading your teen’s privacy. You are teaching that anything your teen does on the phone and social media is NOT private. The act of physically taking the phone is a frequent, visceral, but safe, reminder of this lesson and is meant to create a lifelong habit of thinking through how we communicate through our phones before we hit send or post.
Physical phone inspections work best with young teens just learning how to use smartphones and social media.
Effective strategies for limiting teens’ screen times is one of the top requests we receive from parents, because, as everyone knows, teens are using their smartphones, mostly for social media, a lot. A U.S. survey from 2018 showed that 70% of teens check social media several times a day, up from just 34% in 2012. Sixteen percent of teens check their social feeds nearly constantly, and another 27% do so on an hourly basis. So, this month we are providing another tip to help both you and your teens decrease the phone time.
We stress here at the Organization for Social Media Safety that neither smartphones, generally, or social media, specifically, are inherently detrimental to adults or teens. Plenty of educational and social benefits can derive from phone and social media use. But, when teens, and adults, are starting to rack up multiple hours per day on their phones, the danger becomes the loss of other important activities that are being crowded out.
We must continue to be aware of two important considerations. First, social media is designed to be addictive. So, we need to watch for habitual use. Are you or your teen reaching for the phone when you wake up in the morning or right before you go to sleep? Are you or your teen using the phone as a crutch in social situations, including during mealtimes? Are you or your teen mainly using social media when taking breaks from work assignments? These are all signs of habitual use.
Also, we need to be mindful of the strong correlation between excessive phone use and mental health issues. Teens who used their phones for more than 5 hours a day were 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use. Teens using social media every day were 14% more likely to be depressed than those who used social media less frequently.
So What to Do – Share your Use Publicly!
To reduce your family’s phone use, we are proposing the Phone Time Challenge, which relies on some psychological hacks, like gamification and public accountability.
Both Android and iPhones have software, named Digital Wellbeing and Screentime respectively, that provide detailed information on your daily and weekly phone and app consumption. Now, it is time to really use them!
(You can find more information here about your phone’s time trackers.)
Put a calendar up somewhere central and visible in your house and every day at the same time, perhaps nightly at dinner or some other convenient time everyone is together, write each person’s daily usage times on the calendar. (Make it a fun, daily family ritual.) You can do just overall time or also include social media usage. Then, after a one-week diagnostic period (you will likely be surprised at how much you are really using your phone!), everyone should write down their weekly goals at the top of the calendar. (Don’t have a calendar? You can download one here.)
This challenge also works if you would like to try it on your own. Just share your goal and times on social media once a week with all your friends for a month.
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