McAfee released a “paper” recently entitled, “The Secret Online Lives of Teens” revealing the dirty secrets of teenage online activity. Among the revelations: over a quarter of kids have allowed their computers to be infected with malware or a virus (maybe McAfee should read Imperva’s “Assessing the Effectiveness of Antivirus Solutions” paper?), 80% of kids are participating in (gasp!) social networks, and one-third of teens don’t reveal everything they do online to their parents (they have developed revolutionary systems of concealment where they “minimize their browser” to conceal their activity, and “clear the browser history” to hide sites they have visited). As a serendipitous co-winky-dink, McAfee offers a software solution for parents to take control of their teenager’s online activity.
In a recent talk, a researcher for Child Watch Project revealed that all of the following may occur in children excessively using social media: narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. It also purportedly makes them susceptible to future health problems. Teens who use social media purportedly lack essential life skills such as food label literacy, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases,wearing of a helmet while riding motorcycles, and being able to control their temper.
If you want to craft a compelling call to action, tell people that they will lose the hearts and souls of their children unless they use your product. Better yet, blame the corruption of youth on the dreaded, nebulous scourge of “social media.”
Stating the obvious
More than 12% of the world regularly use one or more social networks. 53% of the US population uses Facebook. The infallible repository of crowdsourced knowledge Wikipedia lists 200 unique social networks (and that is a huge underestimation). Point being that social networks have grown extraordinarily large in a small period of time.
The average age of users on the major social networks is around 40, so many people who are familiar with Facebook have children who are or will soon be using social networks. Both of my pre-Kindergarten age kids can navigate effortlessly on Apple devices. There are a lot of things that parents might be fearful of, and a lot of the fearfulness stems from the desire to do the best thing for our children. But parents aren’t the only audience ripe for exploitation.
In Guy Kawasaki’s book Author-Publisher-Entrepreneur he describes services to create social media profiles that cost into the thousands of dollars. You’ve probably seen commercials on television for companies offering to set up “free” websites for a monthly fee (kind of a paid Geocities without the content control). Business owners are as ripe for fear-based marketing around social media as parents are; after all their businesses are their “babies.”
Social media gets a bad rap
Fear-based marketing is nothing new. Robert Cialdini (and many other people) have pointed out how psychologically powerful loss aversion is for people. The thing about social media is that it is mysterious and widespread enough to make some pretty outrageous claims plausible.
The challenge is to weed out the absurd from the legitimate. When a lecturer describes an increase in bipolar disorder caused by social media, we probably should check and see if there has been recent increase in bipolar diagnoses (there hasn’t). But when Shelly Turkle and Ellen Bremen describe the effects of social media on everyday communications skills, or when Turkle or Kathy Savitt discuss the experience of kids growing up with parents on social media, we should take notice. There’s a lot of relevance to understanding the ramifications of social networks on our behavior and experience.
But when someone’s just trying to sell you something, social media probably isn’t as insidious as they are reporting it to be.