ST. PAUL — Minnesota parents said their kids were subject to harassment, targeted advertising and influencing and anxiety stemming from frequent notification on social media platforms. And on Thursday, Oct. 14, they shared with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar their desire to see additional safeguards placed on Facebook and Instagram for young users.
During a virtual roundtable discussion, half a dozen parents and advocates for young people said they'd struggled with the best strategies for coaching their children through the safest ways to engage with social media.
The conversation comes a week after the U.S. Senate hearing involving a former Facebook employee who blew the whistle about internal studies done at the company documenting the adverse impact the site's algorithms can have as they serve up troublesome and inaccurate content. Klobuchar sat on that committee discussion and said she would relay to her colleagues in Washington the stories that the parent panel shared with her.
The parents' experiences varied, but they said their children had experienced unwelcome comments and bullying through the platforms and they said frequent use of the sites took a noticeable toll.
Several talked about the impact of being bombarded by targeted content. While a child or young adult could walk away from a discussion with a peer in real life, virtual interactions can stem follow-up posts or advertisements based on a website's algorithms.
"She's just inundated and her perception of reality is altered as a result by something that might have been little or niche or just a one-off otherwise becomes a major point of her worldview and I think that's a huge problem," Natalie Kennedy, a St. Paul mother of three, said of her 12-year-old daughter. "The parental responsibility goes so far but there's too much we can't control."
READ MORE ABOUT THE PROBE INTO FACEBOOK:
Tammy Sundbom, a mother of four and Boys and Girls Club of the Northland Resource Development Director, said she often turned to her 19-year-old daughter for help in how her 10-year-old should approach social media sites. And while the perspective helped her keep security features engaged to protect her younger children, she still had concerns about children in the area posting content that could go on to be seen by adults they didn't know.
"Professionally and personally, this issue hits very close to home. We see this in the clubs ... I see what the branch directors see, which is this is a major issue with all of our youth," Sundbom said. "Are parents aware that these are charming little videos of your cute 10-year-old daughter but who can see this charming video of your cute 10-year-old daughter?"
The group urged Congress to weigh additional restrictions for the sites that could guard children against harmful content and limit targeted ads or inappropriate posts targeted at them. And they asked that lawmakers appropriate additional resources to schools so that they could live stream on a platform other than Facebook.
Klobuchar said she was working to advance legislation that would give users more control over the personal data that social media sites can collect, hold the sites liable for spread inaccurate health information during public health emergencies and beefing up protections for children online.
"For so long, the companies have been saying, 'Trust us, we've got this,'" Klobuchar said. "Anyone who's spent time on these sites understands that polarized content, mean content, intense content sells and that basically gets upgraded on these platforms."