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Social Media Harms

Children today are navigating a social world that is far more complicated than in prior generations. What has not changed though is that, by nature, they are still impulsive and seek immediate gratification. Social media allows them to act on their worst instincts in significantly more harmful ways. 

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets (sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.) Cyberbullying is particularly damaging because it is often done on a platform where hundreds, or more, can witness it. This drastically compounds the humiliation the victim feels.


Like all forms of bullying, cyberbullying causes psychological, emotional and physical stress. StopBullying.gov reports that youth who are bullied have a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

Cyberbullying Stats: 

  • About 37% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have been bullied online. 

  • Girls are more likely than boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.

  • 15% of teen girls have been the target of at least four different kinds of abusive online behaviors, compared with 6% of boys.

  • About half of LGBTQ+ students experience online harassment -- a rate higher than average.

  • 83% of young people believe social media companies should be doing more to tackle cyberbullying on their platforms.

  • 60% of young people have witnessed online bullying. Most do not intervene.

  • Only 1 in 10 teen victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse

  • Young people who experience cyberbullying are at a greater risk than those who don’t for both self-harm and suicidal behaviors.

Source: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-cyber-bullying

Impacts on Mental Health and Attention

  • After nearly two decades in decline, high depressive symptoms for 13-18 year old girls rose by 65% between 2010 & 2017.

  • A longitudinal study of several thousand adolescents indicated that their level of social media usage was a significant predictor of their depression.

  • 66% is the increase in the risk of suicide-related outcomes among teen girls who spend more than 5 hours a day (vs. 1 hour a day) on social media.

  • The amount of time spent using social media is significantly correlated with later levels of alcohol use for teens. This is not the case for time spent on other forms of electronic media (including TV or video games). 

  • The level of social media use on a given day is linked to a significant correlated increase in memory failure the next day.

  • The mere presence of your smartphone, even when turned off and face down, drains your attention.

  • Media multi-tasking is significantly linked to later levels of attention difficulties.

  • Children under the age of 14 spend nearly twice as long with tech devices (3 hrs and 18 min. a day) as they do in conversation with their families (1 hr and 43 min. a day).

Source: Center of Humane Technology Data Sheet on Minors and Social Media

Online Sexual Exploitation and the Normalizing of Sexting


  • Since October 2013, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has seen a dramatic increase in sextortion cases being reported. According to the NCMEC, children who are victimized are often targeted and blackmailed by an individual they met online and who had obtained a sexual image from the child through deceit, coercion, or some other method. The image is used: to acquire increasingly more explicit sexual content of the child; to obtain money or goods from the child; to meet in order to engage in sex with the child. Source: https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/sextortion/

  • A 2016 survey of 1,631 victims found that 25% of incidents happened to kids 12 and younger, and 60% of this group met their offender online. Victims who met their perpetrator online are often targeted on platforms they frequent. This group reported that first contact typically comes in the form of a friend request. Source: https://calio.dspacedirect.org/handle/11212/3037

Thorn/Benenson Strategy Group Reports: Surveyed approximately 2,000 American children between 9 and 17 

  • Sharing nudes is becoming normalized for teens. Approximately 40% of 13-17 year olds reported that it was “normal for people my age to share nudes with each other.” 

  • 1 in 5 girls ages 13-17, and 1 in 10 boys ages 13-17, said they have shared their own nudes. 

  • Nearly half of participants (48%) surveyed said they had been made to feel uncomfortable, been bullied, or had a sexual interaction online.

  • 1 in 3 participants reported having had an online sexual interaction.

  • 25% of 9-17 year olds reported having had a sexual interaction with someone they believed to be an adult.

  • Teen girls were nearly three times more likely to be solicited for a nude (28%) than teen boys (11%). 

  • Approximately 1 in 6 (16%) 9-12 year old girls reported having had an online sexual encounter with someone they believed to be over 18. 

Source: https://info.thorn.org/hubfs/Research/SGCSAM_Attitudes&Experiences_YouthMonitoring_FullReport_2021.pdf?utm_source=website&utm_medium=research+page&utm_campaign=SG_monitoring_2021&utm_content=download

Source: https://info.thorn.org/hubfs/Research/Responding%20to%20Online%20Threats_2021-Full-Report.pdf

Your Voice is Needed!

Passing federal legislation is an important way to protect children. Contact your congressional representatives and ask them to support the following federal bills:

Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA)

This legislation (S. 3663) from Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn would require online platforms to prioritize the wellbeing and best interests of children while designing their products. The bill would:

– Establish a “duty of care” for online providers, requiring them to eliminate or mitigate the impact of harmful content on their platforms;

– Require platforms to have the strongest, most protective settings on by default for minors;

– Give parents more tools to protect their children’s privacy, restrict purchases and track their time on a platform;

– Require social media platforms to perform an annual independent audit that assesses risks and whether the platform is taking meaningful steps to prevent harms to minors;

– Expand enforcement tools for FTC and state attorneys general;

– Provide researchers and nonprofit organizations access to “black box” algorithms to assist in research on algorithmic harms to children and teens.

Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act

This legislation (S. 2918) from Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, and Representatives Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan, would protect young users online from manipulative marketing, amplified harmful content, and manipulative design. The bill would:

– Prohibit platforms from amplifying violent, inappropriate, and dangerous content to children and teens; 

– Ban features that lead to overuse and compulsive checking of devices, like auto-play, push notifications, and rewards for spending more on a platform (e.g. Snapstreaks);

– Eliminate public displays of quantified popularity such as likes and follower counts for children;

– Stop platforms from recommending content that includes influencer marketing like unboxing videos.

Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth (PRIVCY) Act (HR 4801)

This legislation (H.R. 4801) from Representative Kathy Castor would expand on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and incorporate key elements of the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code. The bill would:

– Require sites “likely to be accessed by children and teens” to make the best interests of young people a primary design consideration and conduct regular risk assessments; 

– Establish a Youth Marketing and Privacy division at the FTC; 

– Ban harmful uses of children’s data, including prohibiting all data-driven surveillance advertising to anyone under the age of 18; 

– Allow parents to sue on behalf of their children if their privacy rights were violated.

Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (S. 1628)

This bipartisan legislation (S.1628) from Senators Ed Markey and Bill Cassidy would:

– Expand privacy protections to teens for the first time, establishing a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Teens” that limits the collection of personal information;

– Expand protections for children under 13, including banning surveillance advertising and placing a greater responsibility on companies to get parental consent before collecting any data from a child;

– Create an “eraser button” to make it easier for parents and teens to delete a minor’s information from a website or app; 

– Establish a Youth Marketing and Privacy division at the FTC.