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Is Instagram Killing a Generation?

In this Time magazine article, two college students argue that social media companies are well aware of the negative effects they have on young people, including development of social anxiety, body image issues, eating disorders, depression, suicidal ideations and much more– but refuse to do anything about it. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Facebook knows Instagram can be mentally detrimental for teenagers and young adults. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” a Facebook presentation quoted by the Journal said.


The authors propose a three -step solution. First, they ask that Mark Zuckerberg and others be held accountable for releasing data about the impact social media has on teens that Congress has requested but has not been shared. Second, they feel Congress must hold hearings where young users can share their experiences and discuss the side effects of regular social media usage. Third, they urge elected officials to come to understand that social media is the way most young people socialize, but it needs effective regulation such as banning targeted ads for kids and teens, safeguards to restrict the collection of user data, and tools to stop endless scrolling.

Facebook Appears to Invest in Privacy

A recent Facebook blog post states that more than $13 billion has been invested in safety and security over the past five years, and staff handling such issues has been quadrupled. Facebook said it's now taking a more proactive approach to handling specific abuses. The new statistics — meant to demonstrate how seriously the company takes safety and security issues — were published recently after a series of stories in the Wall Street Journal used leaked documents to show that despite hefty investments, Facebook struggles to combat a myriad of serious issues, including COVID-19 misinformation and illegal human trafficking. The documents showed that Facebook’s internal researchers often identified serious problems with inappropriate content or user behavior on the company’s services, yet routinely failed to fix them. 

Facebook Designing Tools to Get Around Apple’s New Privacy Push

Facebook is rolling out a series of tools to help brands connect directly with consumers as privacy moves from Apple are changing access to users' information. The new tools include click-to-message ad options for Messenger, Instagram Direct and WhatsApp, email and messaging capabilities for its Business Suite management platform for re-marketing efforts, and publishing content via File Manager. The goal is to still allow businesses to talk directly to consumers, only now it will be through tools that private businesses will have access to only through Facebook.

The Unintended Consequences of Monitoring Students’ Online Lives

New studies are looking at the unintended consequences of schools using monitoring software to scan students’ communication and searches online.  In one study, 61% of parents and 57% of teachers say monitoring students' devices “could bring long-term harm to students if it is used to discipline them or is shared and used out of context”, according to a report from the Center for Democracy & Technology. About half also said online monitoring tools could bring unintended consequences, including "outing" students who are LGBTQI+. A large minority of parents (49%) and teachers (40%) said online activity monitoring violates students' privacy rights. Nevertheless, 62% of parents and 66% of teachers said the benefit of online monitoring outweigh the privacy concerns. According to one of the reports: "While a potential goal of student activity monitoring software is to prohibit access to obscene materials, these findings raise questions about whether tracking students may cause them to hesitate before accessing important resources (related to mental health, for instance)."

Instagram Adds Safety Features for Tweens and Teens

Instagram will start requiring users to provide their birth date to use the app and is developing artificial intelligence techniques to detect when young users may lie about their age, according to the Facebook-owned company. This follows an announcement that users under 16 years old will have their accounts default to private status.

The Pros and Cons of Schools Scrutinizing Student’s Social Media

Internet surveillance technology using artificial intelligence is in use across at least 200 Texas school districts, often without students knowing and without their consent. Authorities and tech companies say the services spot students considering harm to themselves or others, but privacy advocates point out that the algorithms can flag nonthreatening posts, that activity from Black people and women is disproportionately subject to misinterpretation, and that schools may use surveillance against protesters.

TikTok Offers New Privacy Policy for Teens

In a recent blog post, TikTok announced plans to make its platform safer and less addictive for teenagers. The changes, expected to be released in the coming months, expand on earlier efforts to improve privacy settings and defaults for children under 18 and include options such as choosing who can view videos and limits on when younger users get notifications. One of the featured updates is a prompt that appears when younger users are about to share a video, asking whom they want to allow to view it as well as whether they want other people to download their post.


This should be good news for parents since TikTok ranked first in July in nongaming app downloads, with more than 63 million installs, -- a title it has held for all but two of the past 18 months, analytics platform Sensor Tower reports. Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp rounded out the top five in overall download rankings in July.

Artificial Intelligence Coming to Classrooms

Curious about what artificial intelligence applications are possibly coming to your children’s classrooms in the future?  An article in The Wall Street Journal profiles several and discusses the transforming role of teachers in the future. Despite the many technological advances, AI and education researchers still believe that a future where students might receive a personal robot or on-screen AI buddy along with their textbooks is rife with ethical and design challenges, citing ease of use, inclusivity and data use and privacy.

Google Implementing Policies to Protect Minors

Google is now blocking gender-, age- or interest-based targeting to children under 18, accepting minors' requests to have images removed from search results, and disabling location history within account settings. The company is also rolling out protections on its YouTube platform, such as defaulting video uploads by kids between 13 and 17 to a private setting and taking "overly commercial content" off of YouTube Kids.


Google says these new changes are based on new regulations being introduced in some countries, and that it wants to offer “consistent product experiences and user controls” globally. Requesting an image’s removal from Google’s image search won’t remove it from the web entirely, Google cautions, but it says this should give users more control over the spread of their images. Alongside its changes to ad targeting, Google also says it’s expanding safeguards to stop “age-sensitive ad categories” from being shown to teens.


The new features are being introduced on different timelines. The option to request that images be removed from Google’s image search, as well as changes to default YouTube video privacy settings, will roll out in the coming weeks. The new restrictions on ad targeting, SafeSearch changes, and tools to block content on Google Assistant-enabled smart devices are launching in the coming months.

Biden Administration Takes Stance on Student Online Speech

The Biden administration is filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the US Supreme Court to side with a Pennsylvania school district over its ability to discipline students for online speech that takes place away from the school campus. The case, which focuses on a student's language and foul language in an upset over not making the varsity cheerleading team posted on Snapchat, could be heard in April, and a decision could be announced in the summer. Just one more reminder that whatever and wherever you post can be seen, recorded, and circulated to anyone. The results of this case will help define what rights students have regarding any off-campus posts.