- By Nwokocha Joel N

On the 4th of December 2017, Mark Zuckerberg the CEO of social media juggernauts Instagram and Facebook unveiled yet another social media interactive platform this time uniquely designed for kids under the ages of 13.

Facebook on the one hand is reputable for extracting information form it users as regards their preferences and life style, this harvested user metadata is in turn channeled for ad targeting purposes. Some believe that Messenger Kid has been launched as a preface to introduce theses preschoolers to its product— to have a better chance of onboarding them into its ad-targeting mainstream product when they become teenagers. In as much as this aggressive approach to advertisement and perceived plot can be considered to be exploitative to say the least, there exists graver repercussions that have been pushed ashore that cannot be over looked.

Social media has become a space in which we form and build relationships, shape self-identity, express ourselves and learn about the world around us, its powers of manipulation are far from nonexistent as many medical experts have identified averse health issues among youths and adults alike that emerge as a result of incessantly spending time on these sites.

A 2017 study by The Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods while using the five most popular social media sites.

It suggested Snapchat and Instagram were the most likely to inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. YouTube had the most positive influence.

Seven in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24-year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. Two-thirds said Facebook made cyber-bullying worse.

This study attributes to a rise in cases where social media is a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These problems are often complex and wide-ranging – from excessive use of gaming or social media sites to feelings of inadequacy brought on by a constant bombardment of social media images of other people’s lives, to cyber-bullying. A study conducted by researchers at San Diego State University found that teens who spent more time on social media, texting and video-chatting on their phones were not as happy as those who played sports, went outside and interacted with people face to face. The work which shows teen suicide and depression rates climbing in the US since 2010, suggests that these issues are linked to the swift rise in smartphone ownership across the country.

Social media has been proven to be a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

At a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents’ wellbeing, many believe it to be an act of sheer negligence for Facebook to launch a child centered app. It is no news that, children in this age group are very sensitive to peer approval and otherwise, the anticipation of friends’ responses will be a powerful incentive for children to check – and stay on – a phone or tablet.

Facebook on the other hand claims that Messenger Kids helps brings remote families closer. However, Boston-based not-for-profit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood summaries “a dedicated Facebook app is not necessary for children to keep in touch with long distance relatives, citing a plethora of alternative options that can be used for that (such as using a parents’ Facebook or Skype account or Apple’s FaceTime or just making an old fashioned telephone call) which do not require kids to have their own account on any app. This development seeks to “Displace the face-to-face interactions that are crucial for building healthy developmental skills, including the ability to read human emotion, delay gratification, and engage with the physical world.”

The inherent dangers lying in the usage and likely ensuing addiction to social media platforms cannot be over emphasized. In the light of the obvious, careful consideration of pros and cons on the side of parents would be appropriate in determining the extent to which they are eager to expose their youngsters to these woes.


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