Last year The Daily Mail published the suitably sensationalist title: Social Websites Harm Children’s Brains.
Arguably, this was an early sign of a reporting trend in the light of the recent scandal and subsequent retraction around the March Headline ‘“I posed as a 14-year-old girl on Facebook’ for which legal action was threatened and apologies hastily made.
However, the subject area stands and remains one of controversy surrounding the use and abuse of social media in attracting and supporting children and the scientific community are yet to be convinced.
Oxford Scientist, Baroness Greenfield commented in last years Daily Mail article “My fear is that these technologies are infantilsing the brain’ , a suggestion that Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, may also have a view on. Palmer’s central argument is that, while we grown-ups benefit from living in a society where electronic technologies have enriched our lives, our children are suffering because their childhood experiences are being harmed by the proliferation of technology that pervades (or invades?) their childhood.
In the Daily Mail’s article last year, Facebook, Beebo and Twitter were all cited as culprits in the shortening of children’s attention spans and at that stage the numbers of users was lower than today at just 150 Million Facebook users Twitter had 6 million sign-ups – but that was a year ago and the march towards social media has grown with new entrants popping up all over the social mediasphere including the recent Gravity – a Twitteresque alternative that I just received my invite to.
So, my pondering is this; what do Children’s charities make of the criticism and what policies do they have for using the world of social media for good and averting the harm caused by the overuse and indeed more sinister abuse that these channels can also encourage?
Times Online ran an article in May of last year in which the NSPCC’s Helen Buxton discussed the pro’s of social media in use for fund and awareness raising – she commented:. “The beauty of social networking sites is that they are a really quick and easy low cost way to engage with supporters”. This is very true and NSPCC have an official Facebook page, as well as several unofficial NSPCC pages, all of which serve a cause. Helen went on to explain “On Facebook there’s an unofficial NSPCC page called Stop Child Abuse which has 250,000 members. That’s brilliant, because we can go to the page’s owner when we want to talk about a fundraising initiative or campaign, and she messages her supporters.” Proof of the positive power of the medium for sure.
NSPCC are certainly not the only children’s charity who are working hard and intelligently in their use of social media channels – GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital), Save the Children and Kids Can are all blazing a trail through Facebook and beyond and I think it is not only great, but hygiene factor now for any serious charity brand. However, I have read Toxic Childhood and I have children and as such I wonder, can anyone share the guidelines in play in ensuring that as a sector, we do no harm to those we seek to protect? Answers from the Children’s charities would be great to inform the debate and help others using the channels to target the small and young people of the world.