(Paris) With ever finer settings, social networks want to involve parents in monitoring their offspring online, but the task, tedious and imperfect, cannot fill the gaps in content moderation.
TikTok, one of the kids’ favorite apps, announced an update to “Family Connect Mode” on Tuesday, with the ability to block words or hashtags.
Since its audience exploded during the confinements linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the social network of Chinese origin has been trying to reassure about its efforts to limit the circulation of harmful content, while many media have revealed shortcomings in the moderation, which allowed sexual or drug-promoting content to pass.
Nearly all social networks, along with Google and Apple, have launched self-monitoring tools in recent years that are meant to address criticism of addiction caused by these platforms, an approach seen as promoting digital wellbeing.
Now, they are also trying to involve parents by providing training on these more advanced parental control tools. The approach is supported by the public authorities, particularly in France, which legislated in 2022 on parental controls installed by default on new devices, because this software is still underused.
To train them, the Meta group, parent company of Facebook, Messenger or Instagram, presented Tuesday, in addition to new tools, the “parents’ campus” in partnership with several associations. This is a free program launched on the internet in the coming weeks.
“The role of parents in supporting young people on social networks is paramount,” said Capucine Tuffier, child protection officer at Meta France, in a press release.
But for child psychiatrist Serge Tisseron, member of the National Digital Council, “parents did not grow up in this world and do not have as much time as preteens and teenagers to devote to it”.
Thus, these ads are, according to him, “cosmetic”, or even allow platforms to “whiten their image. (It’s) a way to hide their own responsibilities, especially in terms of very flawed moderation, in other words to create a smokescreen to hide their capitalistic logic” and the power of algorithms, he says.
“These tools are interesting, but parents should not be made to believe that this is the solution”, supports Marion Haza, president of the Open association, because “they can give the impression that, because parents are not not geeks, they would not have the legitimacy to support children on digital technology”.
The involvement of parents is also not necessarily well perceived by the main people concerned. “He is obsessed, he interprets this as a criticism of his tastes,” Arnaud told AFP of his 13-year-old son.
And, for him, the tools remain “complicated to use”, especially when “children have several screens”: limiting the time spent on one device does not prevent using another.
According to Justine Atlan, executive director of the national number 3018 (for victims of cyberbullying), social media campaigns have the merit of targeting parents and raising awareness of existing systems, but should not “question the efforts that platforms have to do to be proactive in the fight against cyberbullying or age verification”.
“Parents are confused, anxious, even angry about the place of digital in the lives of children and teenagers with a feeling of helplessness and lack of control,” she told AFP. They represent almost half of the 25,000 calls to 3018 in 2022, she explains.
“Parents can’t stop their kids from going on social media before they’re 13 if social media welcomes them. They cannot fight alone against the attractiveness of social networks, ”she believes.