Internet and Social Media Safety

Internet safety is a significant concern across society. There are numerous nefarious individuals working to gain access to personal data. Additionally, there are predators posing as young children or teens.

Parents play a vital role in giving children the tools they need to navigate the modern media landscape. “Teaching media literacy can begin with the very basics with small children,” said Leilani Carver-Madalon, an assistant professor in the Master’s in Strategic Communication and Leadership Online Program at Maryville University. “For example, start by teaching them the difference between reality and fantasy on YouTube or on television.”

Parents can explain that people in commercials are actors performing roles, just like kids do when they play dress-up, for instance. This lays the foundation for understanding that media is not always an accurate reflection of reality and that the people creating ads, news reports, movies and more have particular perspectives they’re trying to convey.

“Children who critically consume media text by understanding how the texts and images convey particular messages are more likely to be able to make informed decisions regarding what to believe and why, as well as what not to believe and why,” said Vivian Maria Vasquez, a professor in the School of Education at American University. “They are also better able to articulate why they believe certain things and better able to make language choices that are socially just and equitable.”

“Probably the number one thing parents can teach their kids is to stop and think before they click,” said Robin Terry Brown, author of “Breaking the News: What’s Real, What’s Not, and Why the Difference Matters.” A classic parenting experience is sitting next to your child to read a board book together, sounding out words, and commenting on pictures and plot developments. The same sort of thing should happen with other types of media, especially when in digital forms.

When children go online, they have direct and immediate access to friends, family, and complete strangers, which can put unsuspecting children at great risk. Children who meet and communicate with strangers online are easy prey for Internet predators. Predators have easy and anonymous access to children online where they can conceal their identity and roam without limit. Often, we have an image of sexual predators lurking around school playgrounds or hiding behind bushes scoping out their potential victims, but the reality is that today’s sexual predators search for victims while hiding behind a computer screen, taking advantage of the anonymity the Internet offers.

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Social media is changing more than the way we communicate. Since the first caveman grunted at his wife once to say he was hungry, and twice to say he was lonely, communication has influenced real world actions. When a society shifts how it is communicating then the flow of real world actions also changes. Influence, a topic I am always talking about, can be about changing minds, but it becomes particularly powerful when it turns into action. People are habitual and if left alone and observed, they can become fairly predictable. Changing habits then becomes very powerful.

What makes social media so powerful?

  • Contact time
  • Real to Digital to Real Cycle

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Facebook’s former head of monetization, Tim Kendall, unloaded on the social media giant during a hearing about social media’s role in spreading extremist content — saying that his former employer, like big tobacco companies, worked to make its product as addictive as possible.

“We sought to mine as much attention as humanly possible,” he said. “We took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, working to make our offering addictive at the outset.”

Kendall, who worked for Facebook during the pivotal growth years from 2006 to 2010, said that the tech giant made upgrades to the site designed specifically to keep users coming back for more.

“Tobacco companies initially just sought to make nicotine more potent,” he said. “But eventually that wasn’t enough to grow the business as fast as they wanted. And so they added sugar and menthol to cigarettes so you could hold the smoke in your lungs for longer periods. At Facebook, we added status updates, photo tagging, and likes, which made status and reputation primary and laid the groundwork for a teenage mental health crisis.”

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