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The internet was never made to cater to children. However, its only defense is asking the user to verify that they are over the age of 18 by clicking a button. With every refresh of a website, more and more unregulated information is added onto the cybernetic cloud, especially when millions of users flock to a dedicated platform. Social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok thrive on younger users, with 37.4% of users between the ages 13 and 24 globally making up Instagram’s audience. With 500 million daily users, Instagram has consumed the social lives of teenagers and young adults alike. Applications such as Instagram, Discord, Snapchat and TikTok need a high engagement of users in order to prosper, and all of these took complete advantage of this in 2020. Being used as a form of social gathering during the coronavirus pandemic, applications like Discord grew from 56 million monthly users to 100 million in 2020. With user engagement only continuing to rise, so does the mental health crisis among young users. 

Social media applications are also the perfect platform for exploitation and oppression of younger people. Moderators at TikTok were instructed to “suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform.” TikTok moderators social judgment depending on what elevates user activity and what doesn’t through an integrated algorithm. Without even signing onto TikTok, the first videos that are on the generic algorithm are conventionally attractive people doing TikTok dances and the latest memes. Until the user engages with the application and branches into different areas of the platform, the application itself targets users with dangerous ideals such as body shaming, sexualized content creators and performing dangerous trends for views. There is an entire section of TikTok called “depression TikTok”, where users glorify depression and anxiety for the sake of bonding with other emotionally vulnerable and impressionable young minds. Having depression and anxiety should not be exploited for views. Furthermore, children should not be exposed to videos glorifying disordered eating and overt amounts of sexualization in order to gain the algorithm’s favor. 

Despite giving clear guidelines on how the platform operates, especially in regards to sexually suggestive content. Instagram is a great example of this hypocrisy when it comes to following their own guidelines and how they distribute actions onto those who fail to follow said guidelines. In 2019, the infamous Belle Delphine’s Instagram account was terminated for violating guidelines because her posts contained lewd and suggestive content catering to an adult audience. However, Instagram influencer Danielle Cohn, a minor, posts daily adult content. Her Instagram caters to younger audiences with a majority of her fans being from the ages 12 to 16. Additionally, she has been given a number of sponsorships by Bang Energy drinks, which could be dangerous for minors. Comparing these two influencers, an adult being banned for content that a minor can get away with on Instagram is shocking. It doesn’t stop there: Instagram does not allow artists to even post sexual content, sometimes taking it down even if it is censored. 

This promotion of capitalizing off of minors and elevating those who bring profit to the platform is a huge reason companies like Instagram and TikTok should be held accountable. However, they never are since the users are not directly hired by influencers. Because of the nature of social media, users like Danielle Cohn sexualize themselves for views. If she were an adult, she could be held responsible for her actions. However, legally, children can not be held responsible, leaving the fault to lie with the parents and the company. In the case of Danielle Cohn, her own mother is a willing participant in her daughter’s exploitation, and despite child services being called on them multiple times, nothing has been done. There are no fair executions of regulations, and it’s clear the moderators in these platforms are only there to manage the algorithm to aid in the application’s success. Companies are not exempt from the law, and despite the unclear child labor laws in regards to online presences, plenty of new laws have been put in place to protect children from being exploited. Despite that, I firmly believe children shouldn’t be involved with earning money online in general. They are being put in the spotlight to be scrutinized, sexualized and taken away from their childhoods to start earning money for their parents. 

Social media is deeply rooted in our daily lives through forms of communication, meme sharing and getting involved in digital communities. Social media allows users to feel as if they aren’t alone in this era of isolation. However, these platforms are clearly taking advantage of younger users. If we are unable to remove young minds from the internet, then we have to do our part as active users by reporting harmful accounts, not getting involved in cancel culture and reporting underage accounts, we can try to limit the exposure of harmful accounts to young minds. It’s impossible to regulate the internet, even with dedicated moderators, but by being socially conscious and educating young users on the dangers of cyberbullying, targeted advertisements and the falsity of a standard body image, maybe we have a chance of regulating our own lives and how often we devote our time to social media.

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