Prince Harry: Social media companies treat kids like ‘digital experiments’

On Monday, Prince Harry took part in a virtual launch of the Global Child Online Safety Toolkit. Harry partnered with 5Rights Foundation, and Harry spoke via Zoom (or some kind of video conference) about why he cares so much about this. Basically, he says it’s time that social media companies stop using kids as living experiments. We don’t know everything about how social media and dis/misinformation campaigns affect the human brain, but we know enough to say that this sh-t is rewiring us. And the effects are even more profound in children.

Prince Harry is getting real about how the online world affects children — and how his role as a father to Archie Harrison and Lilibet Diana has inspired him to try and make a change. The Duke of Sussex joined 5Rights Foundation as they launched the Global Child Online Safety Toolkit webinar on Monday, speaking to children about how the digital world and social media impact them. During the chat, Harry shared that although his and Meghan Markle’s children Archie, 3, and Lili, who will turn 1 next month, are too young to experience the online world yet, he worries about the future.

“As parents, my wife and I are concerned about the next generation growing up in a world where they are treated as digital experiments for companies to make money and where things like hatred and harm are somehow normalized,” he said. “We want our children and all children to feel empowered to speak up.”

Harry, 37, added, “My two little ones are still at their age of innocence. Sometimes I feel like I can keep them away from the online harm that they could face in the future forever, but I’m learning to know better.”

Prince Harry said that social media “isn’t working and needs to be fixed” as it is meant to “pull us in, keep us scrolling, get us angry or anxious — or make us numb to the world around us.”

“I’m not an expert on law or technology, but I am a father — and I’m lucky enough to be a father with a platform,” he said. “My kids are too young to have experienced the online world yet, and I hope they never have to experience it as it exists now. No kid should have to.”

[From People]

I genuinely feel sorry for parents trying to navigate this sh-t. Especially parents of teenagers, teenagers who are on Instagram, TikTok and maybe even Twitter (although I bet it’s mostly TikTok and the ‘gram these days). Teenagers will say “well, my friends have it” or “I need to be literate in this stuff to have a job,” but as Harry says, the kids are digital experiments. But how to put the genie back in the bottle? That’s the question.

Screencap courtesy of The Telegraph/5Rights Foundation. Additional photos courtesy of Instar.

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37 Responses to “Prince Harry: Social media companies treat kids like ‘digital experiments’”

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  1. Snuffles says:

    I don’t have kids, but I have a pair of nephews that are 12 and 14 years old. So prime age to be dealing with this shit.

    I used to think my brother and his wife were being too severe in limiting their kids screen time. They are rarely allowed to watch TV and are told to read a book if they are bored. The oldest only recently got his own phone once he entered high school. And I wouldn’t be surprised if his parents are monitoring it 24/7. I already see him “doom scrolling” and it breaks my heart. I genuinely miss the days of being oblivious to day to day atrocities. Not that kids should live in ignorance, but the daily onslaught of horrifying news, presented in the most salacious, click bait way with no nuance or analysis, must be fucking them up.

    • Desdemona says:

      As a teacher I congratulate your brother and his wife. They’re doing a great job. Control the time on thecellphone too. The news are not the worst part. It’s the emptiness in contents (tiktok , facebook, etc)… Contents which are vapid, devoid of any intelligence, mistakes in language, racist content, and I could go on…. Most of what is online is worth zero, and kids love that because it’s…, I don’t even know why they love it, maybe because they don’t have to think…

  2. Colby says:

    I am beyond thankful that I got through high school with no social media. I cannot imagine growing up with it and am profoundly sad for kids these days who have to deal with it all.

  3. Layla says:

    This!! It’s so necessary in this day and age. The internet is a really dangerous place.
    The de rangers were posting horrible comments under this post about how “H stepped back and let his nieces and nephews be bullied” but isn’t that on their parents for exploiting their children to the British media? (Exhibit A, the stupid Gary Janetti animation show)
    Also a lot of them were also boasting about how the U.K. already has this tool and it’s not as bad here. WRONG! Does anyone remember the whole “MOMO” saga during the height of the pandemic which was this weird creepy doll thing that would hack children and teenagers’ screens and coax them into committing suicide? No where is safe on the internet and strict measures are an absolute must!

    On a funnier note: I’m surprised there’s been no last minute engagements from the Keenests-of-them-all

    • BothSidesNow says:

      That’s awful. How could ANY SM platform allow MOMO to be available???? Our children have enough angst growing up. They don’t need to have this despicable MOMO lurking about for children to become victims of this tragedy. My god, SM is much, much worse than I had ever realized.

      • M says:

        Do you have a source for this? I don’t remember it and when I googled all it gave were articles how it wasn’t real.

  4. emmi says:

    My bff is pregnant and even I have started worrying how her kid will deal with this online world. We grew up without internet and when it arrived in my late teens, it was harmless dial-up fun. It took me a while to make the decision to “only” use Instagram and nothing else. It feels strange to ditch an app, like you’re missing out on things. And I try to influence the algorithm so that I cannot doom-scroll. But you need an adult brain for that and I can absolutely see how teenagers or younger children get absolutely lost online.

    There are so many things that should be regulated. I personally think any filter etc. should leave a little watermark or something on a picture. Especially if you want to sell something. That’s just the tip of the iceberg but social media to me often looks like a filtered hellscape where all faces look alike.

    Then there’s the political realm which I can’t even get into. He’s right, laws should exist. When Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress (was it?), I wanted to scream, it was so awful.

  5. C-Shell says:

    Peer pressure was bad enough (at leading adolescents into questionable choices) when I was growing up without social media. Fear of knowing how my parents would judge or react kept me out of trouble, for the most part, but if I’d had the ability to engage online with anonymity and without my parents’ knowledge? It scares me to think how vulnerable kids are online. I hope Harry’s efforts influence necessary changes.

  6. TheOriginalMia says:

    The Buffalo shooter said he was radicalized at age 16. Now I’m sure there was casual racism in his life, but he found his people on 4Chan, reading memes and fomenting his hatred of Blacks. I have a 12 yo sister and the stuff she’s learning on TikTok is concerning, but limiting her time on the app is impossible because she lives with her mother, who is of that generation that shares everything online.

  7. Becks1 says:

    My oldest just turned 10 and it makes me sad bc I know we’re nearing the end of his “social media innocence,” I guess is one way to put it. He doesnt’ have a phone, he’s not on any social media, but I know I can only put off some of that for so long. My niece is finishing up 8th grade and she is not on social media, but even just the texting and communication between the students on their phones can be an issue. And she doesnt really get the bad end of it bc her mom is a teacher at their (small private) school.

    We are treating kids like a social experiment with all this technology and I’m trying to figure out the best way to navigate that in the future.

    • Over it says:

      Becks , mine also have no phones . I am not ready for this.

    • Roop says:

      What’s really shocking about SM is that parents can be on the same platform that their kids are on, and have completely different experiences. I am on Insta because my kids are on it and I want to make sure they are using it appropriately. My algorithms give me content like “how to up-cycle that curb side find!” and innocuous stuff like that. My kids get toxic and dangerous beauty hacks and diets pushed at them. I don’t see that content at all. It’s terrifying.

      Have you guys seen the new Dove commercial about toxic social media? It is really eye-opening.

  8. OriginalLaLa says:

    I deleted all my social media this year to see if it helped my anxiety and- best decision I ever made. I had no idea just how much time and emotional energy I had been putting into SM and just how crappy it was making me feel.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      As for SM, I too have deactivated my FB as well as other SM platforms. SM is such a abhorrent trap for everyone. SM is the driving force of causing so much hatred and division within our country. Children should be outside and using their minds for imagination and exploring the outdoors to enjoy and experience the beauty of being a child. My children were the only kids in the neighborhood that didn’t have games either.

      I couldn’t imagine having to raise my children in this digital age. There are too many traps and harmful content out there for children to be influenced. Case in point was that POS that shot those innocent people in Buffalo. How did he become a home grown terrorists, using SM. I think SM is eroding the core of society and all SM platforms MUST be accountable for these platforms. No more excuses!!! Regulate SM now!!

  9. MsIam says:

    This is what I love about Harry. Nobody is claiming he’s the “royal expert” or the “global spokesperson” of anything. He’s a dad with a platform, he comes from a place of authenticity. I raised two kids at the start of this whole digital age, when MySpace was what we had to worry about. Its frightening to see what things have evolved into. I hope with Harry’s platform he is able to make a difference but he can’t do it alone.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ MsIam, preach!!!! I wish others would stand up against these tech giants as well! Bravo to Harry for bringing these issues to the forefronts where they must start to listen and TAKE action!!!

      Their constant refusal to take responsibility is getting old, very very old. All while they are raking in the massive money and claiming ignorance.

  10. Queen Meghan’s Hand says:

    As a Millennial, I remember having sites and user groups specifically for my kid and then pre-teen age group. Now, children can be on TikTok and Instagram. These are adult sites first and foremost.
    Has anyone else ever read or watched anything about the development of the Sesame Street Workshop? The time, expertise, thoughtfulness, and political verve that went into the creation of SS should be a standard for any internet creation that has the capacity to reach millions of children.

  11. Over it says:

    I have 4 children, they are all under the age of 16 and none of them have social media accounts or access to them, they have asked , especially the older ones but my husband and I stand firm together on the no. It’s not easy to be in the minority when all their friends and peers have sometimes multiple accounts on different platforms. I don’t know what’s best for other’s children, I can on,y speak for mine and I don’t want them on social media at this age , it honestly scares me what they could be exposed to on it.

    • Julia K says:

      High schools where I live require students to have phones to access homework assignments, notifications, etc. If at least one of your ” under 16′ s ” is a high schooler then they are already exposed to social media via their phones. Kids are not safe from it.

      • Over it says:

        For school work yes, for anything else no. We have blocked it all and we check every day what they are doing to make sure they aren’t stepping outside of school assignments.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ Over It, I applaud you and your husbands take on SM. They have plenty of time to be adults, let them grow up without SM. We have survived for decades without the outside influences and dangers of SM. SM makes it much, much worse for children, hell, even adults are not immune to the dangers of SM!!

    • Desdemona says:

      As a teacher I congratulate you and your husband an I also thank you…
      It’s scary how dependent we all are of social media….

  12. Kati says:

    I have two teenage sons and we are constantly on high alert. Our biggest area of concern is Snapchat where messages “disappear” after they’re read. Of course there are ways to retrieve that data, but they make it very cumbersome and you have to sift through symbols and code to get to actual text. There is a part of Snapchat where you can send out a question and people can answer anonymously. It’s a nightmare.

  13. Well Wisher says:

    All the above is duly noted, there are so much unknown factors in this area.
    Companies have a fiduciary responsibility to its customers, as much as its shareholders.
    My concerns as a customer are quite different from what they’ll be as a shareholder: they are more than just the bottom line.
    Ten years ago, my locally owned newspaper ran a piece about children using the internet and worried out aloud about the implications towards their social and psychological development.
    The article described a situation where some children had a sleep over, and instead of telling stories and eating toasted marshmallows etc, each child was plugged in, engaging online and staring at a screen – probably what we now describe as feeding their digital addictions.
    Our city has since responded by introducing programs emphasizing the outdoors.
    This is encourage healthy social relationships, feed the child natural curiosity and create an appreciation of the natural world and as a bonus mitigate any future climate deniers.

    Best wishes to this new organization, I hope they achieve the desired results. Our children are counting on their success. Harry has chosen a worthwhile cause.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ Well Wisher, that’s a wonderful solution that your local city/town has created!! How different would our children’s development be if they were encouraged to be outdoors and enjoying all of the beauty that they can achieve outside!!

      I applaud your local area in addressing the need for public spaces for children to be outside and enjoying being a child. Children have no need or use for an iPhone or tablet unless it’s for educational purposes. Children need to be children. They are in desperate need to play outside and enjoy the wonders of outside. Their imagination, growth and their appreciation for the beauty that the outdoors will be a cherished memory to carry them into adulthood as well!!!

      I have come to despise SM.

  14. Elvie says:

    My husband wrote his psychology dissertation on children and online bullying. Being online so much rewires our brains and interacting with people online really distorts our ability to have empathy for others. It is terrifying.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      How interesting!! I never imagined how powerful SM plays into the the lack of empathy. Though I do see at as fostering the inability for children to grow up being comfortable with having face to face conversations.

      • Elvie says:

        Yeah he researched a lot about how not having that face-to-face connection means you can say cruel or hurtful things in text and they almost come to mean nothing to the writer because you aren’t seeing the harm you’re causing because you can’t see a person’s reactions. Also online forums and social media have become so toxic you can even be rewarded or gratified for that behaviour which makes you do it more further eroding the ability to feel empathy.

  15. katherine says:

    One of my absolute favourite things about Harry is that the man is CONSISTENT. Just found this article from 2017 where he was also talking about the dangers of “young people spending too much time online.”

    He has always been the same 🥰

    • BothSidesNow says:

      Thank you for the link!! You are spot on!!!! Harry is consistent NO matter the challenge or the message to be carried out to everyone!!!!

  16. Charm says:

    Ever since committing to, and then following thru with watching the entirety of The Social Dilemma after H&M’s “Time 100 Talks” in October 2020, it has been my fervently held wish that everyone gets an opportunity to watch this docu-drama (its on Netflix – & I also understand that Netflix made it available on youtube for free)……especially parents/care-givers/policy-makers, etc., with young kids – especially those who can still be considered to be in their “age of innocence.”

    Because once your child gets that first smart device, its near-impossible to save them from all the ills that H spoke about.

    The idea that the intent of the creators of SM platforms is to re-wire the brain of chidlren/youths, with the aim of keeping them hooked/addicted to whats being fed to them, I dont think is appreciated enough by parents of young kids and others whose job is to take care of kids…..which means all of us.

    I’m so grateful to H&M for using their immense, global platform to focus on an issue like this.

  17. SuzeQ says:

    You may think you’re monitoring your kids on Instagram but many kids have finstas (fake accounts).
    I hate social media for kids. The sites make everyone else’s lives look fun. I frequently reminded my kids that people curate their own content to make their lives look shiny when generally life is a mixed bag.

  18. blunt talker says:

    I don’t trust social media companies to do the right thing when it comes to young children-Harry is right that parents will have to be vigilant and keep tabs on what their children are doing on line-the horror in Tops food store makes it cyrstal clear that these websites that promote any kind of bigotry has influenced a young man to the point of no return but to kill others based on their race-every ounce of feeling, intelligence, or morality has left this young man dead in side mentally and physically