Co-authored with Rory Selinger
Even when you think you know a lot about the online world, it’s still hard to know exactly what kind of guidance to give your kids. You may be worried about screen time, device distraction, oversharing, bullying, and appropriate levels of parental monitoring. But there’s so much more to address.
Recently, the Atlantic ran a shocking article headlined “Instagram Is the Internet’s New Home for Hate,” which revealed a disturbing truth about the platform. While many older users view Instagram as a friendly (or overly friendly) place to share photos, kids have different agendas. They’re probing controversial ideas and experimenting with new identities to figure out who they are. In the process, journalist Taylor Lorenz writes, they’re exposed to “conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers — many of whom… are very young.”
This exposé hit home for us. Rory is a seventh-grader, and her dad, Evan, is a philosophy professor, and together we’ve had plenty of conversations about Rory’s Instagram account. What are family members posting? Get any requests from strangers? Are you staying away from drama? Yes, it’s a scam when a company says it wants to send our dog — who, like so many pets, has her own page — discounted clothes to “model.” The list goes on — but it hasn’t extended to politics, much less the cesspool of political conspiracy theories.
How big or small is the leap from middle schoolers believing that Taylor Swift isn’t who she says she is to doubting the truth about the Parkland school shooting?
It turns out, however, that conspiracy theories are popular topics among Rory and her friends. At lunch, they chat about YouTube clips featuring stories about pop culture that revolve around secret and suggestive…