March 31, 2022
Utah Attorney General Reyes and 44 attorneys general wrote TikTok and Snapchat this week to urge them to give parents the ability to monitor their children’s social media usage and protect their children from online threats using parental control apps.
The letter is addressed to attorneys for TikTok and Snapchat, and says in part: “Your platforms do not effectively collaborate with parental control applications (“apps”) or otherwise provide an adequate opportunity for parental control within the platform. Many other platforms already allow parental control apps to monitor the content on their respective platforms. We ask that you conform to widespread industry practice by giving parents increased ability to protect their vulnerable children.” Read a copy of the letter here.
Research increasingly demonstrates the negative impact that social media can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children and teenagers. These range from decreased self-esteem and greater body-image dissatisfaction to increased exposure to cyberbullying and sexual predation. One app reported that in 2021 it had analyzed more than 3.4 billion messages and found:
- 43.09% of tweens and 74.61% of teens were involved in a self-harm/suicidal situation,
- 68.97% of tweens and 90.73% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature,
- 75.35% of tweens and 93.31% of teens engaged in conversations surrounding drugs/alcohol,
- 80.82% of tweens and 94.50% of teens expressed or experienced violent subject matter/thoughts, and
- 72.09% of tweens and 85.00% of teens experienced bullying as a bully, victim, or witness.
As the attorneys general note in their letter, “Parental control apps can alert parents or schools to messages and posts on your platforms that have the potential to be harmful and dangerous. Apps can also alert parents if their child manifests a desire for self-harm or suicide. On other platforms where these apps are allowed to operate appropriately, parents have received notifications of millions of instances of severe bullying and hundreds of thousands of self-harm situations, showing that these apps have the potential to save lives and prevent harm to our youth.”
Social media platforms already engage in some content moderation and operate under some community guidelines, but these are not always sufficient to protect children and teenagers who are particularly vulnerable to online threats, especially with regard to direct messaging. Parental control apps empower parents to be full partners with the platforms to maintain a safe space online for their children.