Social Media

Should I allow my children on social media?

Mahbubul Alam Ali, Seattle Majlis

In 2012, we spent 2 billion hours on social media . That’s a lot of time. So what is social media? Social media are Internet services like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus that can let hundreds of millions of people to communicate and share text, pictures, and videos. Some services like LinkedIn connect people to their professional networks. Others like Tumblr and Flikr help people publish written and photographic works. Some use pictures to convey your interests like Instragram. Some services, like Foursquare, let you share where you are so you can get deals. WhatsApp, TextPlus, Google Voice give free or low cost texting to one or many people. SnapChat and Whisper are mobile applications that attempt to give temporary, anonymous, or private conversations.

But nothing on social media is really private.

With any new technology, we have to use it in the right way to help us rather than to hurt us. For example, Gutenberg invention of the printing press ushered in a great era in human learning. However, print media have also been used to spread hate and profanity. Does that mean that books are bad? Certainly not. The same is true for television, satellite communications, and the Internet.

To better understand where social media stands today in its evolution, let us look at the evolution of Facebook. Facebook believes it has to constantly push the boundaries because it is inventing the future. The way Facebook and others find the boundaries is to push over any known limits, wait to see the reaction, and then pull back when the public demands it. If the public does not push back, then the limits keep getting pushed farther and farther. If you get caught in this tug of war, you are out of luck. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article detailing this . In 2005, when Facebook started, the policy was that only people you designated could see your information. But by 2010, Facebook changed its policy to allow other websites, on which you use Facebook services, to see your friends, your picture, and other information about you. Keeping up with these changes is confusing, and if you do not understand, you risk giving out your private information.

Nothing on social media is private.

My wife’s experience with Facebook has been very insightful. Several years ago, she began using Facebook as it was a way to keep in touch with family thousands of miles away. She lost touch with her cousins and friends due to busy lifestyle, distance, and time difference. With Facebook, she could keep up with important family matters like the progress of her cousin’s son with non-verbal autism.

But after a while, she started seeing the costs and pitfalls. She found herself spending more and more time, and it became addictive very fast. She realized that she was spending time on it even when she did not have time. She also noticed that she was getting friend requests from all sort of “aunties” who she had met years ago. She realized that Facebook had become a way for folks to keep tabs on each other.

Now her Facebook usage is very limited. She posts on issues important to her that should be shared with the public. And she restricts posting any personal information or pictures.

As parents, we understand that our kids have a genuine, healthy need to connect with their friends, and we know that their friends are on social media. But, we also know that the rapidly changing state of social media creates many pitfalls, some which we know today, and some that are yet to come. So, we decided that avoiding social media is a better option for us right now. We will continue to evaluate and discuss this topic with our children and give them healthy, safe ways to connect with their friends.

In closing, social media has various forms—from broad sites connecting hundreds of millions of people to services offering anonymous connections. Social media is still forming and the rules are changing. But there is one rule that is holding true: nothing on social media is private.