Legal Books and Gavel

Another Reminder of Failing to Train – Kids and Social Media

I’ve seen so many examples of this in my day job that it no longer surprises me. In fact, I recently saw another one where a tool’s overall opinion seemed to contradict what you would think. (How could a technology that seems simple enough and is adopted in many places be so unanimously hated by everyone in this one group?)

Most of the time, I see a lot of complaints about not being able to get good information from a database or it being too difficult to use, etc., but I often see those excuses are only the dressing on top of a salad of poor training.

In some cases, it may be that there was no training. Others where the training was not done effectively. Still, others where training was done, but the communication around change management wasn’t good, leaving users to guess which option to use instead of communicating expectations.

How many times in my career have I had to tell people, “it’s a database. If it doesn’t have the information you’re looking for, that’s because no one entered it?” They, naturally, want to blame the tool and purchase a new one instead. This is fine, provided you do training and communicate expectations better this time!

With this in mind, I was slightly amused by the headline of this TechDirt article:

Now Mesa Public Schools Are Also Declaring That They Have Failed In Educating Their Children By Suing Social Media

As Mike Masnick points out, if we assume social media posts are dangerous for children (In fact, the studies are pretty mixed on the subject), is the correct remedy for that to sue the platforms where random people happen to write those posts or to teach kids how to navigate the online world better?

If world events are traumatic for children, do we sue the news stations? If hearing random people speak in a public place is dangerous, do we sue the city we live in? Pools are hazardous for kids, but we don’t sue the manufacturers or installers for that. No, we teach them how to interact with them properly.  We teach them pool safety. We assist them in navigating current events and educate them on avoiding hazardous people in public. We even monitor them until they are old enough to navigate those spaces independently.

With social media, though, we didn’t do any of that. As parents, society, and schools, we ignored social media and hoped it would disappear. We viewed it as something new we didn’t understand instead of recognizing that any space where anyone could create content and any user could interact with another might be a place kids would need some help navigating.

We allowed kids to jump into the deep end with no preparation and no one paying attention and then blamed the boogeyman of Big Tech when bad things inevitably happened. We ignored the kids who figured out how to use the tools as a positive influence in their lives. Those kids formed supportive communities of users, learned from each other, and helped each other through difficult times. They benefited from the tools. They were trained, or trained themselves, to use the tools properly and benefit from the experience.

That’s not what showed up in the media, though. There we got the scare stories of kids being bullied, kids accessing self-harm content, and kids being approached by adults out to do them harm.

Why did we think anything on the public internet was a place to let kids roam with no training? Why do we fail to educate our kids on social media and technology in general? If we think the tech companies are to blame, we have to ask ourselves how we expect kids to grow up and interact with the world when we can’t even prepare them to deal with social media algorithms.

Social media companies can do more, but it’s unrealistic for us to expect them to protect kids who’ve never been taught to keep themselves safe or be a good online citizen to other kids. That’s on all of us.


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