It is alarmingly common for the Daily News to report on criminal cases involving adults using social media in efforts to engage in inappropriate behavior with kids, and these local cases represent a tiny fraction of such instances nationwide. For all of the internet’s positive contributions to modern life, it does have an undeniable dark side, particularly in its misuse by those who seek to harm children.
That’s why we are thankful that Kentucky leaders have voiced opposition to Facebook’s apparent plans to create a version of Instagram – a popular, photo- and video-based social media network – that would ostensibly be reserved for children ages 13 and younger. Facebook, which owns Instagram, has argued that a children-specific network is safer than the practice of kids lying about their age in order to access apps and websites that lack adult oversight. We suppose there’s a case to be made for that idea, although we are troubled by the concept of establishing virtual hunting grounds for bullies and child predators. No matter what security and safety measures are implemented, it seems obvious to expect such networks to be infiltrated by adults with harmful, and sometimes criminal, intentions.
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, and Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general, share our sentiments – which, we presume, are also held by many parents.
“Research demonstrates that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional and mental well-being of children. There are rapidly worsening concerns about cyberbullying on Instagram. Child and sex predators use the platform to target children, and children are too young to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online – including inappropriate content and relationships with strangers,” Brooks said.
Cameron joined 44 attorneys general in publicly opposing Facebook’s plan for Instagram, a show of strength that – at least for now – seems to have tempered the tech giant’s interest in releasing such a product.
We hope Facebook genuinely steps back and takes a hard look at its ambitions in this matter, rather than simply biding its time until the coast is clear.
In the modern age of computers and cellphones, it is nearly impossible to totally shield children from the potential dangers lurking on the internet. But the burden of protecting children falls entirely on parents and guardians, who must make choices that are best for their families and be diligent about monitoring kids’ online activity. Even if Big Tech sincerely aims to create a safe space for kids to interact online, there is simply too much risk in trusting these corporations to truly safeguard our children’s health and safety.