Social media giants ‘exploiting children’ to generate more traffic, report warns

Published On: June 15, 2018 11:54 AM NPT By: Nagendra Upadhyaya

Social media giants are exploiting children by hooking them on their sites in a ploy to generate more traffic, warns a report released today.

Companies such as Facebook and Google are putting share price over the future of a generation, according to charity 5Rights, which conducted the research.

Its chairman, a crossbench peer, said tech firms deploy an ‘unfettered use of persuasive design’ that encourages children to keep clicking – and accused them of a ‘cavalier disregard for childhood’.

Baroness Beeban Kidron said children’s rights were being dragged back to the Victorian ages, with tech giants allowed to pull youngsters onto their platforms without worrying about the implications.

And she called for social media sites and platforms to come with the same health warnings as alcohol and gambling in order to protect children – adding that impact assessments should be carried out to investigate any risks they could pose to children before new features are launched.

‘Every technology is sort of introduced in a blaze of glory and then we work out it has responsibilities,’ she said.

‘Tech is 25 years old and what we need is for them to join the rest of us in the 21st century.

‘They are behaving like 19th century railway barons ... they are pushing them back into being Victorian children.’

The 5Rights report warns that by designing sites, apps and games with the intention of keeping children online, the tech sector is creating a public health issue. It outlined tactics used to keep children gripped, such as auto play content that means videos on platforms such as YouTube automatically roll onto the next. A system of likes, shares and comments also means youngsters create a ‘metric of person value’, leading to a reliance on the rush from the ‘affirmation’ of others.

And constant notifications that ‘summon’ users leave children with a choice between being deluged with notifications or living in fear of missing out.

5Rights warned children are particularly susceptible to such tactics as they are programmed to ‘seek instant gratification’. Children interviewed described social media as a ‘contagious disease’, with many reporting anxiety, aggression and sleep deprivation. It warned the Government must put children’s safety above lucrative deals with tech firms.

Baroness Kidron said: ‘No product should be routinely sold, delivered or shared with children unless it has had an impact assessment on the likely outcomes. .. and protections and mitigations put in place that are age appropriate ... If you think about gambling and alcohol ... we have very strong protections. All the report says is: let’s have limits to [social media’s] availability when the end user is a child, let’s have warnings.’

Facebook and Instagram said the sites ‘were designed to bring people closer to friends and family’, adding: ‘Encouraging addictive behaviour does not factor into that process and we’re continually working to make sure our platforms contributes to people’s lives in a positive way’. They added its rules state under-13s are not allowed to use the sites. Google was approached for comment.

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