by Family Research Council
July 12, 2019
American children are finding it increasingly difficult to escape the explicit snares of social media. That’s why earlier this week the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World.” Social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube have become a harbor for predators, sex trafficking, and pornography.
Families should remain especially conscious of the risks posed by these kinds of platforms in a time when content remains largely unregulated. App stores’ descriptions of social media platforms rarely match the actual maturity of the content. The repercussions of kids’ easy access to pornographic content are shocking and, in some cases, irreversible.
In the hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) succinctly acknowledged that “Child exploitation online is becoming an epidemic.” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was blunt about the reality of the situation: “Predators no longer lurk in chat rooms. Predators use the apps our kids use.”
Snapchat and Instagram, the two most used social media apps as of 2018, see 190 million and 500 million daily users respectively. The minimum age to download these applications is 12 years old, yet the content on these apps can be alarmingly inappropriate. While app descriptions may warn of “mild infrequent/mild sexual content and nudity, alcohol, drug use, profanity, and suggestive themes,” the content a child might see includes “sextortion, pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking, monetized accounts for sex acts, minimal parental controls, … news articles [also] frequently push: porn, risky sexual behaviors, sexting, drugs and alcohol.”
Even if parents know how to use an app like Instagram, the access to explicit content can be hidden in plain sight: “On Instagram, porn is often hidden behind hashtags and emojis that appear innocuous but are used as secret code to tag and search for particular types of porn.”Though Instagram claims to regulate pornographic material, the content remains readily available. As a result, not only can young people hide their searches with these hashtags, but almost half of them are exposed to explicit online content, and 66 percent of this exposure is unwanted.
The lack of identity verification and content regulation lead to evils even deeper than premature exposure to sexual subjects. Social media apps like Instagram are witnessing a rise in sex trafficking schemes. A recent study from the University of Toledo found that “traffickers connect to vulnerable youth online, groom the children to form quicker relationships, avoid detection, and move the connections from online to in-person.”The study shows that online predators groom children whose posts display “fear, emptiness and disappointment.” They emphasize that parents must protect their children by “monitoring or blocking questionable activity.”
One Michigan father actually saved his daughter from becoming a victim of human trafficking by simply paying close attention to his tween daughter’s social media habits. He recounts, “It began with a picture, a questionably inappropriate one for a girl her age, and the sexy pose set my red flag on fire. So my digging turned into a manhunt checking EVERYTHING in all her accounts.”Portage Police said that the father’s attention to his daughter’s online activity may well have saved the girl from abduction.
Parents must be equipped with the tools to fight the dangers of social media, but they must first recognize the problem. First, as Christians, we must take measures to encourage healthy attitudes towards sex among young people. Our biblical worldview informs us that sex and sexual behavior belong in a marriage between a man and a woman. This ideal is easily challenged and outright denied on social media—not only by groups on the Left, but also by the explicit content so readily available to young users. Secondly, we need to protect our kids from physical harm. Early exposure to explicit content opens the door to pornography addiction and physiologically affects neural learning. Furthermore, social media can easily take dark turns towards the unthinkable for a parent—losing a child to human trafficking.
This is why FRC has partnered with #fixappratings to overcome the challenges that social media can present to the family. We encourage you to join us and learn more about how you can help at fixappratings.com.