Young people and social media platforms in 2021: How to begin to see the landscape


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO/AP) — Any person with access to a phone and a basic understanding of how to use it has a universe of information available in an instant. Of course, not all that information is beneficial or true.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune asked questions of social media executives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. He asked questions of executives from TikTok, Google (which owns YouTube) and the parent company of Snapchat: all familiar to anyone who spends time online or thinks about the online habits of someone they’re raising or care about.

“Should consumers who use these social media platforms be able to use them without being manipulated by algorithms?” Thune asked the executives in Washington.

“Senator, yes, I agree with you,” said Jennifer Stout, vice president of global public policy with Snapchat parent company Snap Inc.

Thune believes teens should know if an algorithm is pushing them or suggesting that they go in a certain direction on social media.

“I think that the social media company needs to be transparent about that, and they should be informed that an algorithm is influencing the content that they are experiencing, what they’re seeing,” Thune said.

Thune also wants users to have the option of getting content that isn’t filtered. University of South Dakota professor Harry Freeman teaches about human development as well as educational psychology.

“Ultimately I think what we find is that more use is correlated with higher anxiety, higher depression, less school performance,” Freeman said.

But he doesn’t demonize social media.

“At the same time, there is many instances where these social media sites can be a positive influence on teens’ lives,” Freeman said. “Especially teens that are otherwise marginalized or finding difficulty engaging.”

South Dakota State University professor Kathryn Coduto teaches about mass media and social media. She offers a reminder.

“Whether it’s TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, they want you to stay on their platforms, in their programs,” Coduto said. “And so, they might say that they’re thinking about safety or trying to update the algorithm, but they also are businesses at the end of the day that definitely want you to stay on, and they also have research that shows negative content, mean content, angry content, tends to drive impressions and engagement.”

She has a suggestion for parents.

“I think something that parents should really do is have their own accounts or at least be familiar with the different social media platforms available,” Coduto said.


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