Social media is more active than ever, with businesses and people trying to connect. And no group is more active on social media than today’s teens. Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram see stable or increasing numbers of users yearly. Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram report the highest numbers of teen users.
With 45% of teen users saying they’re online ‘almost constantly,' teens find ways to get involved in nefarious and illegal activities. One of the most widespread of these is the purchasing of illegal drugs like Ecstasy, Oxycontin, and Xanax, as social media becomes more and more prevalent in the lives of American teens.
New Research Shows Loopholes are Slow to Close
While Instagram’s official policy says that it does not allow the sale or promotion of drug use, as Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, points out; “Instagram is opposed to actually doing something that will materially address these harms on its platform because they don’t want to cut into their bottom line.”
Loopholes were also found in Instagram’s hashtag policy, the new research found. For instance, Instagram blocked the hashtag Fentynal (#fentynal), but #fentynalcalifornia has yet to be secured. And #Xanax was banned for desktop users but remained a searchable hashtag on mobile devices. So blocking the overall hashtag helps, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem, and teens can quickly work their way around blocked hashtags.
Racial Disparity Looms Large
As Instagram struggles to balance its bottom line with the safety of users on its platform, the racial divide of those users, particularly teen users, seems to grow. Research shows Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular social sites among teens.
And the numbers for black teens are up across the board compared to their white peers. While 75% of American teens use Snapchat, 86% of black teens use the social media outlet over 71% of white teens. And 40% of black teens say they use Snapchat “almost constantly,” over just 22% of white teens.
White teens are also considerably less likely to use video or messaging apps frequently. However, for their black peers, the number increases to 18%. And out of all demographics, black teens are the most active group on social media and messaging apps.
Who Bears the Burden?
It’s easy to vilify Instagram and complain that the platform isn’t doing enough to safeguard younger users of its site. But that lays all the burden on Instagram’s owners when other factors need consideration.
Parents and teen users also shoulder some of the burden of keeping themselves and everyone else safe. Parents, for instance, should consider how much time their teen spends on social media and regularly check in with their children.
Internet safety and conversations about drugs should be an ongoing process that starts at home. And while teens can undoubtedly be impulsive, offering them plenty of healthy alternative activities can go a long way in steering them away from drugs.
However, this doesn’t mean that Instagram gets to walk away as if there’s nothing they can do on their end. Hashtag blocking has to pick up. And if their IT department needs help finding the violating accounts that are still offering illegal drugs to young people, they might consider hiring some young adults to help them out.
After all, money can be a powerful motivator to turn the tide of illegal drug sales this social platform is dealing with.
The Future of Social Media
There’s no doubt that social media is here to stay. Whether on Web3 or in the upcoming Metaverse, the activity of teen users is only likely to increase as technology continues to advance.
Ten years from now, we could all be speaking in a virtual reality setting, entertaining friends and family half a world away as if they were in our living rooms and living almost entirely virtual lives.
Of course, the possibility of a more virtual existence raises the question of safety and keeping children out of harm’s way when they’re online. We’re still struggling to answer this question. However, how much personal freedom do we give up for security? That isn’t likely to have an overnight answer, as every person has different solutions.
Although providing secure options might be one possible avenue to safer protocols and policies, they won’t work for everyone. The burden falls back on individual security for platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. So, the answers may continue to elude those in charge if they can’t see a multi-faceted approach, and with 95% of teens having access to a smartphone, real solutions can’t come fast enough.
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Image Credit: Pixabay.