CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg recently told reporters that he had personally called President Obama to protest about, “the damage the government is creating for all of our future.” Mr. Zuckerberg goes on to explain that the internet “must be kept secure.” That being said, Mr. Zuckerberg could look at the creation of Facebook, its own security flaws, and how leaving children and teens susceptible to developmentally damaging material and predators is affecting our future.
With the advent of Facebook and other social networking sites, the amount of cyberbullying and sexting over the past 10 years has sky-rocketed to dangerous proportions. On Zuckerberg’s Facebook, at first you had to have a college email address. Shortly after, all you had to be was 18 years of age. Again, shortly after that, it spread to anyone with an email address could join Facebook (like children and teens). This turned out to be a great business investment, however, it also made children and teens alike a lot more exposed to potentially damaging factors like sexting, cyberbullying and sexual predators. Granted, it is not social media’s fault that more parents are not taking matters into their own hands, however, with 95 percent of social media-using teens (ages 13-17) saying that they have witnessed cyberbullying (43 percent of which who have been on the receiving end of it) and only one in six parents claiming of ever knowing that their child has been cyberbullied is more reminiscent of an epidemic rather than a problem.
Adolescents in general, due to the lack of development of the orbito-frontal cortex, one of three regions of the frontal cortex that is involved in evaluating risks and rewards, are naturally susceptible to committing acts of cyberbullying, sexting and potentially engaging in conversations with sexual predators. Along with being susceptible to these potentially harmful activities, children and teens have developing brains and need a stimulating environment to properly develop. Erik Erikson, a renowned American developmental psychologist, points to developing social relationships as a key event in adolescence (12-18 years) as well as the time adolescents need to develop a sense of self and personal identity; if these needs are not met, failure could result in role confusion and a poor sense of self. Erikson also points to school age children (6-11 years) of needing to cope with new social and academic demands and if these needs are not met it could result in feelings of inferiority. When adolescents and school age children are spending more than 30 hours a week online on Facebook and other social networking sites, where they are completely susceptible to cyberbullying, sexting, and sexual predators, what kind of complex or identity is being formed?
Baroness Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, in a 2012 interview with the British publication The Daily Telegraph warns of the damage that social networking sites like Facebook may create for our adolescent future. Ms. Greenfield stated that her “fear is (of adolescents) having an identity extremely constructed and dependent on the moment-by-moment reactions of others (that) will make people less robust and constantly at the mercy of the outside world.” She later points to a website called Klout as an example, which based on adolescents’ Facebook profiles each individual is given a score, leaving adolescents to be placed in an “ultimate beauty contest” where you can never win leading to an identity that is “lacking in self-esteem, overly narcissistic and, at the same time, in constant anxiety.”
Sexual predators can feed off of this inferiority and low self-esteem developed in children and teens, leaving any child or teen that is on Facebook particularly susceptible. Also, teens that do not use privacy settings and post personal information, their likes/dislikes, and talk about sensitive issues can be made easy targets for sexual predators who seek to manipulate a child’s emotional weaknesses. Some more alarming statistics were found on sexual predators in the Journal of Adolescent Health from 2010:
-In 82 percent of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim’s likes and dislikes.
-65 percent of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain home and school information about the victim.
Pairing these statistics with the more risky behavior teens may engage in online (45 percent talk with strangers; five percent talk about sex with strangers), along with the amount of anonymity that can be found through the creation of fake profiles produces a recipe for disaster. Facebook, along with other social networking sites, creates a forum that can leave children and teens particularly susceptible to potentially developmental damaging factors affecting their futures. Mr. Zuckerberg, along with other social networking site leaders, have an opportunity to play a more active role in preparing children, teens, being of children and teens, the focus of Mr. Zuckerberg and other social networking heads have remained on the NSA.
By Ryne Vyles