Commentary

The Popular, Risky Reality Of Social

A few items in the news make me wonder.

1. A new survey says YouTube is the favorite brand of kids 6 to 12.

2. A report on Quartz.com concludes Facebook’s new app, Lifestage, that is supposedly strictly for teens, “makes it shockingly easy to stalk high schoolers.”

3. A parliamentary report in the United Kingdom alleges that Facebook, Twitter and Google (and by extension, YouTube) are “consciously failing” to fight ISIS online.

As Bob Dylan noted a few generations ago, “something is happening here,” And like the Mr. Jones in Dylan’s song, we don’t know what it is.

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Which might be nothing. For at least as long there have been gathering places for young people , some shady entrepreneur has been ready to pick off the most vulnerable or least careful ones. On a practical basis, social media isn’t all that much different than it was for youngsters to hang out on the street corner in the 1930s. Something bad will find you if you give it a chance.

The new research that says how much the very young love YouTube is pretty logical. The content is short and the subject matter can be as puerile as you want it to be. There’s also so much of it, kids go places parents don’t.

As the press release about the survey notes, “Parents are increasingly allowing children to ‘roam free’ on YouTube, because they also feel positively about the brand.” They ranked it 13th on the Smarty Pants research firm’s list. What may also be true is that at the upper end of the the 6-12 year old age bracket, these kids can communicate with each other. And all of that seems fairly benign and mighty alluring.

But it can get dicey. The Quartz report on Lifestage is getting some attention because the two authors, Ian Kar and Mike Murphy, are both in their 20s and had no problem signing up to Lifestage claiming to be high schoolers at Brooklyn Technical School. Nobody checks too hard. It’s hard to do.

While you can’t exchange private messages on Lifestage (which is just in a testing phase marketed to a few high schools),  you can post videos or just gossip and chat. But someone who wants to can easily use it to wrong ends.

Facebook is evidently aware of the potential for trouble. “Everything posted is public. Audience cannot be limited in any way. We can’t promise that anyone in a school actually goes to that school.” one of its sign up pages says.

When Quartz asked Facebook about the potential for trouble, a spokesman responded, in part,  “We encourage anyone using the app who experiences or witnesses any concerning activity to report it to us through the reporting options built into the app. We take these reports seriously.”

So far, the general public hasn’t seemed threatened enough to somehow require social sites to have more security than the self-service lane at the supermarket. Mostly it is  good there aren’t really too many gatekeepers at the Internet. It’s hard to believe that won’t change because there are those horror stories. 

The youngest users, research tells us, are far less concerned about keeping their private lives private at all.

Concerned people got another weak response when the UK Parliament's Home Affairs Committee charged that social media platforms have become "the vehicle of choice in spreading propaganda and the recruiting platforms for terrorism."

The politicians seem to be latching on. Said the chairman of the committee in a statement, "Huge corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter, with their billion dollar incomes, are consciously failing to tackle this threat and passing the buck by hiding behind their supranational legal status, despite knowing that their sites are being used by the instigators of terror."

Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube defended their efforts. And The Verge noted that Twitter said that it has suspended 235,000 terrorist-linked accounts since February, and 360,000 since mid-2015.  In 2014, Google removed more than 14 million videos related to all kinds of video abuses. Lawmakers aren’t that impressed.

Very tight restrictions would kill social media, and oh yeah, would destroy the First Amendment. But as the whole wide world is realizing, online video and social media have gotten bigger, popular and more widespread than the powers that be had imagined.

pj@mediapost.com

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