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Objectionable Content on Social Media and What To Do About It

by Aug 29, 2018

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In my blog post Kids and Social Media Personas, I wrote about the drive that kids have to amass a large following of social media connections and the pitfalls this can cause. There are the societal aspects of the race for friends, followers and likes, but there are also other concerns in which we as parents need to be aware. One of them is the likely exposure to objectionable content. This happens much easier than you would imagine.

Below are four ways that your child can be exposed to objectionable content and how you can help steer your child toward more positive and productive Social Media content. For purposes of this discussion, I am going to focus on Instagram as it is the most popular of the major Social Media platform among teens (Pew Research Center, May 31, 2018).


1. Friends of Friends

After much begging and pleading, we allowed our daughter to get an Instagram account and friends from school and camp started following her and vice versa. We did some of our occasional “check ins” on her account and there was one thing we weren’t quite prepared to see. The Instagram profile of our daughter is set to private so only her followers see her content. BUT…some of her friends are following or being followed by others that have public profiles. Kids follow a WIDE variety of people that touch on a WIDE variety of topics. We found there was content which we preferred our daughter not have access at her age.


2. It Is All in the Algorithm

The internet uses your browsing history to learn what is of interest to you. That information is churned by algorithms to get an understanding of your behavior and then you are served content and advertising that may be of interest to you based on your past behavior. That’s why you see ads for things in which you were recently shopping. With Social Media, the algorithms use kind of a “birds of a feather flock together” theory to display content and advertising. For example, what a follower of my daughter finds interesting, social media assumes my daughter might find interesting. Her profile is private, but profiles of her followers/those she follows are set to public because kids are trying to amass followings (as discussed earlier). It may also be because parents are not aware of the pitfalls of public profiles. Whichever it may be, inappropriate content becomes accessible at earlier and earlier ages.


3. Instagram Explore

Let us take the Instagram Explore feed for a moment. What shows up in that section is compilation of content based on what you have previously looked at and what your followers/people you follow have also viewed. My husband noticed recently the large amount of content for frisbee golf that started showing up in his Instagram Explore feed. He has no interest whatsoever in frisbee golf, but one of his Instagram followers is an avid frisbee golfer. There is a leap that Instagram has taken that if your follower(s) likes(s) something, well you may like it too. So imagine if your child has a follower/person they follow that is accessing content which you find objectionable. There is a high likelihood that content will appear in your child’s Instagram Explore feed.


4. Kids and Advertising

Unfortunately, it is not just content that is driving what is delivered in the Explore feed. Explore also contains advertising. Even though our daughter’s profile is tied to her age, ads for liquor have appeared in her feed. As a marketing person, I certainly understand the role that advertising plays. These are free services and are therefore advertiser supported. However, as parents, we find it frustrating that we do not have the ability to apply parental controls to the Explore feed. That is something that we would like to see changed in the future.


Curation Solution

After scrolling through our daughter’s Instagram Explore feed and shaking our heads a few times, we had conversation with our her about the content in which she was being exposed. We calmly explained to her that it was about her safety, but it was also about her seeing less than positive messages on social media and/or content that was not appropriate. So together we added a few people for her to follow that we all agreed would be positive role models as a way to help curate the content in her Explore feed. We also asked her to remove some of the people/companies/entities that she was following that were not as positive or productive. Of course she gave us the teenager eye roll and tried to assure us that she “wasn’t looking at that stuff,” but she did it and we are hoping she will see the benefits in the long run. As we all know, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.


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