Youth Culture Window

Tough Month for Social Media

Dynamic ImageIt’s quite likely that executives at some of the most influential social media sites – Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram – have been pulling long hours during the first few days of November. That’s because a string of unusual events have knocked some of the biggest players off their game with a run of bad public relations moments.

Here are just a few November headlines (in no particular order) that revolve completely around social media snafus.

Facebook Accused of Exploiting Human Psychology
At a speaking event in early November, Sean Parker, the founding President of Facebook, maintained his status of “conscientious objector” when it comes to social media. In his speech, he admitted that “The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” Talking about the cycle of increased “likes and comments” causing users to post more content for more “likes and comments,” Parker said, “It’s a social-validation feedback loop…because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” For his remarks on social media, he joked that Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, would probably block his account.

The Unmasking of “Finstas”
If you don’t know what a “finsta” is, just add “fake” to “Instagram” and you’re there. Instagram, the graphic-driven social media platform is very popular with kids; 76% of them between the ages of 13 and 17 use it. But some kids have multiple accounts on Instagram, a “finsta” and, of course, a “risnta” (as some refer to their “real” Instagram profile). The difference between the two is as expected: kids use their real Instagram to post pics they’re comfortable with anyone seeing, such as volunteer work or school activities, while their “finsta” is reserved for pics they don’t want grandma to see, such as partying or underage drinking. The existence of finstas isn’t exactly new; this article from way back in February shows how easy it is to see if your kid is using one.

Snapchat Glitch Ends Many Kids Snapstreaks
By now, you know what Snapchat is. After the company broke their promise to never retain pictures, earlier this month they also broke the hearts of millions of young users when their social media platform had a malfunction causing lots of users to have their Snapstreaks interrupted. So, what’s a Snapstreak? Per the site’s support page, it’s when two friends “have snapped each other (not Chat) within 24 hours for more than 3 consecutive days.” Yeah, I know this might not sound like a big deal to tax-paying adults who are concerned about nuclear war with North Korea, but just this past weekend, I was the speaker at a conference center in rural Michigan that’s renowned for its beauty…and its lack of cellular service. Literally every high school student I spoke with during free time breaks and meals was concerned about getting enough wi-fi to keep their Snapstreaks alive.

Increases in Teen Suicide and Social Media Surge Suggests Link Between the Two
The operative word in that statement is “suggests.” While researchers are far from saying, “Frequent Facebook use makes kids want to kill themselves,” most experts are connecting the dots (in fact, our own Jonathan McKee revealed some eye-opening observations on the subject in his Parenting Help article last week, 3 Ingredients Catalyzing the Spike in Teen Depression). Here’s what researchers have observed. First, teen suicide rates increased between 2010 and 2015 for the first time after almost two decades of decline according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Second, in the same time frame, social media experienced a massive surge. For example, in October of 2012, Facebook hit 1 billion users. (It’s since grown to two billion.) Instagram was officially launched in 2010 and Snapchat was birthed in 2011. This surge of social media use unfortunately spawned cyberbullying, constant comparison, FOMO (fear of missing out), and other negative side effects. While interested adults may not know what to make of it, Caitlin Hearty, a high school student in Littleton, CO has drawn her own conclusions. “After hours of scrolling through Instagram feeds, I just feel worse about myself because I feel left out.”

A Bad Run…But a Bright Future
So the Big 3 (Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat) have experienced a couple of hiccups. But they’re not concerned about this recent run of bad luck because they know they own a considerable piece of kids’ futures. Don’t believe it? The Pew Research Center claims that 94% of kids use a mobile device such as a smartphone to go online on a daily basis with much of that time being spent on social media platforms. In fact, 71% of these kids say they use multiple social media platforms. It’s little wonder that users spend almost two hours every day on social media sites.

So, no, social media isn’t going away.

That means parents and youth workers need to make sure that their kids’ futures are protected. Here are two very simple ways to do that.


  1. Make sure you know what’s going on online. At the very least, you’ll want to follow your kids on their preferred social media platform(s). No, that doesn’t give you the liberty to embarrass them; it gives you the opportunity to guide them. Yes, you’ll want to make sure that the pics being posted are appropriate and that no one is being cyberbullied, but you also might want to take mental notes about how your kid is feeling about something, what stresses him or her, and how they react to situations. Those observations allow you to have face-to-face conversations in the real world.
  2. Establish agreements about social media use. For instance, you should probably have a “no later than” timeframe established so your daughter isn’t snapping with a friend at 2:37 a.m. You might also need to help manage who they are interacting with online. Friends in the real world always make the best (and safest) friends in the virtual world. It’s also a good idea to set “no tech” boundaries around certain times such as dinner or family visits so kids’ faces aren’t glued to a screen when they should be interacting with loved ones. And as uncomfortable as it might make you and your kids, it’s wise to discuss infractions and their consequences. Use resources like The Teen’s Guide to Social Media and Mobile Devices, what many are calling the new “phone contract” for today’s teens, to open the doors of dialogue with your kids about wise posting in an insecure world.

Yes, for several reasons, it’s been a tough month for some of the social media giants. Just make sure to do all you can to keep their mistakes from spilling over into the lives of your teens.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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