Facebook’s big stock offering on Wall Street must be followed by an intensive debate on Main Street about social media’s powerful impact on children, an expert on the topic says.
Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco think tank focusing on media and families, said the technology that Facebook represents is having “an enormous impact” on youngsters, families and schools worldwide.
“We need to have a big national, if not global conversation about the pros and cons of that,” said Steyer, a father of four who is also a civil rights lawyer and Stanford University professor.
While social media such as Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter offer “extraordinary possibilities” in such areas as education, he said, “there are also real downsides in a social, emotional and cogitative development way.”
“Hopefully, after the flurry of the IPO and after the valuation of Facebook is done, then we can have a very serious ongoing discussion of what this means,” he said.
Steyer was in Washington to promote his just-published book Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age, which argues for greater parental involvement in children’s online lives.
“Whether we like it or not, kids are now spending far more time with media and technology than they are with their families or in school,” — as much as eight hours a day on average in the United States alone, he wrote.
Children face the triple peril of what Steyer calls RAP — relationship issues, attention and addiction problems, and privacy issues — as well as cyberbullying, online pornography and, for girls, body image fears.
Steyer is particularly critical of Silicon Valley tycoons — he knows many on a first-name basis — who, unbridled by government regulation, insist that privacy no longer matters in an increasingly interconnected world.
“This extraordinary revolution in digital media has been driven by young [software] engineers, many of whom are not parents, many of whom are somewhat socially awkward and many of whom have not really thought through the social and emotional consequences” of their products, he said.
“There is an arms race for data, and to build things as fast as possible ... but that’s not a great strategy when you’re talking about kids,” he said, accusing tech outfits for “not respecting the concept of privacy.”
Earlier this week, a Consumer Reports survey found nearly 13 million US Facebook users — out of 157 million, and 900 million worldwide — do not use, or are not aware of, the site’s privacy controls.
Girls are especially vulnerable, Steyer said, with studies indicating that many body-conscious teens are photoshopping images of themselves so as to look thinner and score more “likes” among their friends.