Part II – Social Media as a threat to teenagers?

In the previous post, Boris Chapoton briefly discussed the origins of social media and its use. Social media has grown considerably since the Internet was created and it has been stated that its social nature is not only attractive to teenagers who are in a period of their life in which social bonding is crucial to construct their identity, but also that it was attractive to SM companies which generate money from providing access to the data generated by the users to other companies.

The current post focuses specifically on teenagers and the “dangers” associated with SM when it comes to being connected to other individuals. In addition, we discuss the dangers associated with SM use when economic purposes are ongoing.

SM’s dangers associated to individuals[1]

When we use the term social, we talk about multiple individuals and about interaction. Ease of access for teenagers to SM has exposed them to some dangers that they may not have otherwise been come into contact with. For example; 

  • Outside their immediate circle of friends – some individuals have developed complex strategies to gain trust, to access personal information, and to take advantage of other people (e.g.: the creation of fake profiles). 
  • Peers – teenagers could be harmful towards each other (e.g. forwarding private pictures) and bullying at school can be now transposed online, giving (hypothetically) no rest for the teen to “breathe” and be able to construct a positive identity;
  • The individual themselves – posting and sharing information on SM could be associated with expectations that could be hard to reach when comparing oneself to others. Subsequently, their sense of reality could be impaired from the content they view, and maladaptive behaviours could develop (e.g. eating disorders, substance misuse).  

However, more than these more or less known dangers that could be associated to SM use, some other “tricky dangers” have to be taken into consideration. 

Teenagers within the economic side of SM

As previously stated within the 1stpost, private companies are looking at specific data from the users in order to target them specifically to sell their product. We can easily understand the importance of these data; the more a brand can get closer to its audience, the more the audience will associate itself to the brand and will spread its use through its SM, advertising the product towards their peers (see figure I). The commercial impact associated with such relations is more powerful than a simple advertisement on a billboard: people are more willing to rely on the advice and experience of any other individual rather than believing a marketing campaign

Figure 1. Communication Channel and viral marketing within the social media

Regarding teenagers, youth have been targeted as a powerful source of potential buyers and its economic impact is major for some companies[2]. When you associate to this fact to the desirable effect of belonging for teenagers that we mentioned within the previous post, SM could be a great opportunity for companies to communicate about their product and to potentially increase the number of buyers: 

A company wants to sell its product to teenagers. It associates its use to friendship and popularity. Teenagers believe that this product will help them to reach both of these. As such, they share a post on their SM associating a part of their life with the product being used. Their contacts positively react to such a post, and the more reactions their contacts and them get to see in relation to the post, the more impact its content will have and potentially make the contacts to buy the product “advertised”. 

As such, while “surfing” on their SM, being entertained and enjoying posts and stories from their contacts or desirable figures’ (e.g. Celebrity), teenagers could be influenced by the content of the messages posted within the SM, so is the case with product placement within classical media (TV program, video clips, etc.)[3].  

Connecting the dots – the example of Snapchat

We said that economy has integrated the SM world. SM are not only website or applications that help you to get in contact with someone else, they are also companies that generate money and have to be competitive to do so. They get to know what makes one use their media and stay on it, so they can sell advertisement opportunities to companies.

If we take the example of Snapchat, this application is used on a daily basis by more than 158 million people, predominantly young people. Snapchat is answering to both teenagers’ and companies’ expectations.

In order to make teenagers use the application, Snapchat underlines the values of friendship and belonging sought by teenagers. To underline such relationships, meaningful emoji have been created to appear next to one’s contact pseudo. The emoji could take the form of different smileys, more or less “positive”:

As for example, if you have a “face with sunglasses” next to the pseudo of a contact, it means that you are the one that sends the most snap to the person and vice-versa; however, if it is a “grimacing face” that you have, it means that your best snapchat friend has someone else other than you as a best snapchat friends. 

In order to make sure that people would use the application to generate data and to be able to grant companies access to teenagers, Snapchat has developed different interactive and funny gimmicks that are constantly renewed. They take the form of filters that could be associated to the photos taken (e.g. dog ears and tongue integrated to the face that appears on the picture) or the form of trophies to obtain depending on the use people have of the application (if you verify your phone number you have the phone trophy, if you send a snap between 4am and 5am, you have the fried egg trophy). But not only is Snapchat using these attractive gimmicks that could be sponsored by some companies’ brand, it also uses the friendship value to make people to use the application again and again, which could be more questionable:

People have the possibility to generate a fire/flame with their contacts. To do so, they have to send each other a snap for at least 3 days in a row, and they have to keep sending each other one snap minimum every 24 hours otherwise the flame would disappear and the number cumulated.The more often people communicate through snaps, the higher the number associated to the flame will be. This will demonstrate the strong relationship people have between each other. If you manage to snap back and forth for 100 days in a row with one of your contacts, the number “hundred” appears next to the flame. 

At a time where friendship is important and insecurity could emerge easily, some teenagers could take the loss of a number or the lack of reciprocity within the intensity to which snaps are sent very personally… 

Then, are SM scary? 

The unknown could be scary, and here is perhaps the problem; we do not know what exactly happens on SM when someone is connected to THE WORLD. But we could say that the world is scary as well. Thinking about it, what more could happen to teenagers on SM than in “reality”? If you talk to people over the age of 25 about their teenage years you could ask if they were facing a different risk than the current generation? Wasn’t there a generation that were warned about the danger of listening to rock’n’roll music, to Elvis or to the Beatles? Wasn’t there a generation that could have faced the risk of losing their mental capacity if they were watching Reality shows? 

We talk about the millennium generation, the digital one and so on. New generations are born with new technologies and get to learn about their use perhaps faster than the oldest (if not for sure). When talking with teenagers about the risk they could be facing on SM, they are not as naïve as one could think. Some would “recite” what they have been taught about the internet dangers, some would talk about problems they or friends have faced and how they have handle them with the help of friends or trusted relatives. However, what should be questioned is the extortion of friendship as a way of making money, especially for teenagers which rely on it to build their self-esteem. 

It is important to keep monitoring what is going on social networks sites and reveal manipulative strategies that people could not know about, the obvious and non-obvious ones (see example below). As you make sure a child knows to look left/right/left[4]before crossing a road or how to come back to the house. Rather than forbidding youth to embrace new habits and possibilities, we should make sure that they feel confident enough to share any problem they are confronted with and give them the capacity to overcome them. However, we shouldn’t put aside the amazing opportunities that the Internet could provide. As mentioned at the start: discovering others, not being alone, sociability, counting on each other and learning from them.

Two different types of danger that could be found on SM. Is one more obvious than the other?

[1]Among others

[2]La Ferle, C., Li, H., Edwards, S.M. (2001) An overview of teenagers and television advertising in the United States. International Communication Gazette, 63(1): 7-24 https://doi.org/10.1177/0016549201063001002

[3]Russell, C.A.; Régnier Denois, V., Chapoton, B., Buhrau, D. (2017) Impact of Substance Messages in Music Videos on Youth: Beware the Influence of Connectedness and Its Potential Prevention-Shielding Effect. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 78(5): 674-683. DOI: 10.15288/jsad.2017.78.674

[4]Right/left/right depending on your country

Social Media should be banned from teenagers and we should lock them up – Part 1 of 2

In this month’s blog post, Boris Chapoton is reflecting on the fear that people can have when it comes to social network sites. Divided into 2 parts to be published within the month, the first part intends to describe what social media is, how it could be attractive to adolescents in particular, and what economic benefits are associated with its use. The second part will focus on the dangers that could be associated with the use of social media, and an insight into the problems teenagers could be facing while using Snapchat.

Faceboohoook… INstagrAhAhAhAM… (indistinct whisperers)… SNAPCHAT! I got you, right? Aren’t you scared? You should be. Imagine a place where people can communicate with anybody around the world, get access to lots of information, share any type of content, and that teenagers can have “unrestricted” access to such a place. Worst, imagine that we can’t have access to what teenagers are looking at or sharing with strangers. 

PART I – What is Social Media and why are people using it?  

Social Media is not that recent…

Social media (SM) emerged at the same time as the internet and has grown at the same speed as more and more people began to access it. SM could be described as interactive media through which one can communicate and exchange data (documents, photos, videos etc.) with individuals or groups, within or outside their immediate environment[1]. In the past (20 years ago), when connecting to the internet, you had to listen to dial-up sounds and screeches for about 30 seconds before connecting. If that wasn’t bad enough, you also had to hope that nobody else in the house wanted to use the phone at the same time! This was the first time it was possible to chat/ communicate with friends or strangers on online platforms. These platforms were generated by the internet providers for example, which were creating general or specific “Chat rooms” dedicated to particular subjects or populations. At the time, the abbreviation ASL(Age/Sex/Location) was asked as an introduction to get to know the person behind the pseudonym. Since then, SM has evolved to include users personalised content. Users can create a profile with as much personal information as they wish, can give opinions about what other users are posting, and get approval (with or without asking for it) from the content they are publishing – whether from anonymous users or from identifiable ones. 

Copy of the book’s cover Internet: A first discovery bookby Chabot, J.F. (2000), Scholastic References, ISBN 0439148243 (source https://www.amazon.com/Internet-First-Discovery-Jean-Phillipe-Chabot/dp/0439148243)


…but SM use is getting bigger and bigger

From 2001 to 2017, the global numbers of individuals using the Internet increased from 8% to 48%[2]. In 2018, 4.021 billion people were using the internet; 3.196 billion were SM users[3]. Use of traditional media i.e. TV or radio, is being exceeded by SM platforms on which internet users spend more and more time[4]. Thus, nearly half of the population of the world can be reached through the internet and in extension SM, and two thirds of the population can hypothetically share information and communicate with each other, or can be reached online through these media. 

“Man is by nature a social animal” (Aristotle)

In “Social Media” there is the “Social” element that is the core component of the applications and websites. If we focus on teenagers, the adolescent period is considered as being one of the most complicated period in one’s life – teenagers are trying to ‘find’ themselves and discover where they sit in society, all the while experiencing rapid developmental and hormonal changes that cause confusion and anxiety. This group are seeking external validation that they are socially acceptable. SM can facilitate this processand be of significant importance for teenagers; it gives them the opportunity to be connected and to communicate with  their peers at any time,  to access information related to what they like (music, clothes, famous people etc.) and to get to know and learn from the experiences of the people they are connected with. Extensive networks allow some teenagers to connect with people they would normally see at school or at other places they go, with friends of their friends, or with people they just share a common interest with. Even if they are in contact with groups that in “real life” settings they probably wouldn’t interact with, they do not necessarily interact with them that much online either. They are just acknowledging that they have something in common like it could be the case for two people from different grade levels going to the same school who wouldn’t talk to each other at school but still would be connected online. 

The communication channel

The “Media” element of “Social Media” involves a way of carrying something (e.g. an informational, or an entertaining piece of content) from A to B, to carry a message from the sender to the receiver. As such, the SM could be considered as a great place to discover other people, different cultures and parts of the world that might have been hard to reach in another time.  It allows users to get access to information, to share knowledge internationally, to maintain access to one’s contact anytime, anywhere and to advertise products as well.  

The economic part associated to SM

As previously stated, nearly half of the population can be reached through SM. It is then no wonder why a whole new economic industry has been developed within this new way of reaching populations worldwide. A decade ago, the most valuable companies were the ones selling energy (ExxonMobil, General Electric). Nowadays, the most valuable ones are the ones giving access to data (Apple, Alphabet/Google, Facebook)[5]. These data are provided by the internet and SM users themselves. They are used by, or sold to companies in order to reach particular types of populations. Every time you use the product attached to SM and grant the company permission, data is obtained on some of your characteristics: your age, sex, marital status, mood, place you went to, etc. However, if we take the example of Facebook, rather than selling your data directly to particular companies, they would provide access to you to specific buyers (e.g. Spreading an advertisement from a company to a specific type of population such as 20 years old single men interested in sports within a specific area). By doing so, Facebook generated in 2017 nearly 40 billion U.S. dollars on advertising revenue alone. This figure corresponded to about 98% of the company’s global revenue[6]. However, to make sure that companies pay them to advertise their products through their media, SM have to make sure that people are using it on a regular basis.

To be continued…


[1]Moreno, M.A., Whitehill, J.M. Influence of Social Media on Alcohol Use in Adolescents and Young Adults. Alcohol Research (2014) 36(1): 91-100. 

[2]Source: International Telecommunication Union, http://www.itu.int/ict/statistics

[3]https://wearesocial.com/uk/blog/2018/01/global-digital-report-2018

[4]https://wearesocial.com/blog/2018/04/three-ways-social-media-usage-has-evolved

[5]https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/05/06/the-worlds-most-valuable-resource-is-no-longer-oil-but-data

[6]https://www.statista.com/statistics/271258/facebooks-advertising-revenue-worldwide/

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