Children May Be Losing the Equivalent of One Night’s Sleep a Week From Social Media Use, Study Suggests

Children under 12 may be losing the equivalent of one night’s sleep every week due to excessive social media use, a new study suggests. Insider reports: Almost 70% of the 60 children under 12 surveyed by De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, said they used social media for four hours a day or more. Two thirds said they used social media apps in the two hours before going to bed. The study also found that 12.5% of the children surveyed were waking up in the night to check their notifications.

Psychology lecturer John Shaw, who headed up the study, said children were supposed to sleep for between nine to 11 hours a night, per NHS guidelines, but those surveyed reported sleeping an average of 8.7 hours nightly. He said: “The fear of missing out, which is driven by social media, is directly affecting their sleep. They want to know what their friends are doing, and if you’re not online when something is happening, it means you’re not taking part in it. “And it can be a feedback loop. If you are anxious you are more likely to be on social media, you are more anxious as a result of that. And you’re looking at something, that’s stimulating and delaying sleep.” “TikTok had the most engagement from the children, with 90% of those surveyed saying they used the app,” notes Insider. “Snapchat was used by 84%, while just over half those surveyed said they used Instagram.”

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TikTok Hits Pause On Its Most Controversial Privacy Update Yet

Early last month, TikTok users across Europe were told that, starting July 13th, the platform would begin using their on-app data to serve up targeted ads, even if those users didn’t consent to the practice. Now, less than a day before that change would have rolled out European Union-wide, it looks like the company’s reconsidering things a bit. Gizmodo reports: A company spokesperson told TechCrunch on Tuesday that TikTok is “pausing” the update while it “engage[s] on the questions from stakeholders,” about the way it handles personalized ads. And needless to say, there are quite a lot of questions about that right now — from data protection authorities in the EU, from lawmakers in the US, and from privacy experts pretty much everywhere.

For context: until this point, European users that opened the TikTok app needed to offer express consent to let the company use their data for targeted ads. This update planned to do away with the need for that pesky consent by on a legal basis known as “legitimate interest” to target those ads instead. In a nutshell, the “legitimate interest” clause would let TikTok process people’s data, consent-free, if it was for a purpose that TikTok deemed reasonable. This means the company could say, for example, that because targeted ads bring in more money than their un-targeted equivalent, it would be reasonable to serve all users — consenting or otherwise — targeted ads. Reasonable, right?

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As TikTok Promises US Servers, FCC Commissioner Remains Critical of Data Privacy

On Tuesday Brendan Carr, a commissioner on America’s Federal Communications Commission,warned on Twitter that TikTok, owned by China-based company ByteDance, “doesn’t just see its users dance videos:
It collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard. Tiktok’s pattern of misrepresentations coupled with its ownership by an entity beholden to the Chinese Community Party has resulted in U.S. military branches and national security agencies banning it from government devices…. The CCP has a track record longer than a CVS receipt of conducting business & industrial espionage as well as other actions contrary to U.S. national security, which is what makes it so troubling that personnel in Beijing are accessing this sensitive and personnel data.

Today CNN interviewed Carr, while also bringing viewers an update. TikTok’s China-based employees accessed data on U.S. TikTok users, BuzzFeed had reported — after which TikTok announced it intends to move backup data to servers in the U.S., allowing them to eventually delete U.S. data from their servers. But days later Republican Senator Blackburn was still arguing to Bloomberg that “Americans need to know if they are on TikTok, communist China has their information.”

And FCC commissioner Carr told CNN he remains suspicious too:
Carr: For years TikTok has been asked directly by U.S. lawmakers, ‘Is any information, any data, being accessed by personnel back in Beijing?’ And rather than being forthright and saying ‘Yes, and here’s the extent of it and here’s why we don’t think it’s a problem,’ they’ve repeatedly said ‘All U.S. user data is stored in the U.S.,” leaving people with the impression that there’s no access…. This recent bombshell reporting from BuzzFeed shows at least some of the extent to which massive amounts of data has allegedy been going back to Beijing.

And that’s a problem, and not just a national security problem. But to me it looks like a violation of the terms of the app store, and that’s why I wrote a letter to Google and Apple saying that they should remove TikTok and boot them out of the app store… I’ve left them until July 8th to give me a response, so we’ll see what they say. I look forward to hearing from them. But there’s precedence for this. Before when applications have taken data surreptitiously and put it in servers in China or otherwise been used for reasons other than servicing the application itself, they have booted them from the app store. And so I would hope that they would just apply the plain terms of their policy here.

When CNN points out the FCC doesn’t have jurisdiction over social media, Carr notes “speaking for myself as one member” they’ve developed “expertise in terms of understanding how the CCP can effectively take data and infiltrate U.S. communications’ networks. And he points out that the issue is also being raised by Congressional hearings and by Republican and Democrat Senators signing joint letters together, so “I’m just one piece of a broader federal effort that’s looking at the very serious risks that come from TikTok.”
Carr: At the end of the day, it functions as sophisticated surveillance tool that is harvesting vast amounts of data on U.S. users. And I think TikTok should answer point-blank, has any CCP member obtained non-public user data or viewed it. Not to answer with a dodge, and say they’ve never been asked for it or never received a request. Can they say no, no CCP member has ever seen non-public U.S. user data.
Carr’s appearance was followed by an appearance by TikTok’s VP and head of public policy for the Americas. But this afternoon Carr said on Twitter that TikTok’s response contradicted its own past statements:

Today, a TikTok exec said it was “simply false” for me to say that they collect faceprints, browsing history, & keystroke patterns.

Except, I was quoting directly from TikTok’s own disclosures.

TikTok’s concerning pattern of misrepresentations about U.S. user data continues.

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Instagram Moderators Say Iran Offered Them Bribes to Remove Accounts

The BBC reports:

A Persian-language content moderator for Instagram and a former content moderator have said Iranian intelligence officials offered them money to remove Instagram accounts of journalists and activists….

Both content moderators also accused some Iranian colleagues of exhibiting “pro-regime bias” when reviewing posts on the photo-sharing service. They spoke to the BBC after many Iranian Instagram users complained that posts about recent anti-government protests in their country had been deleted. Instagram’s owner, Meta Platforms, and the third-party company it uses to moderate content said there was no validity to the claims….

The protests received very little coverage on Iranian state media, meaning that Iranians had to rely on Instagram and other social media sites to learn what was happening on the ground. As the unrest continued, users noticed that some videos posted on Instagram were being removed….

The former content moderator told the BBC that he “personally knew some reviewers who supported the Iranian regime and received instructions from Iran”….

All three interviewees said it was likely that some videos of the protests were removed because they included people shouting: “Death to Khamenei”.

Meta has previously said that its guidelines around incitement of violence prohibit calls for the death of a head of state. However, in Iran the phrase “Death to…” is commonly chanted at protests to express discontent with something or someone, rather than to express an actual threat.

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Is Social Media Training Us to Please a Machine?

A remarkably literary critique of the internet appeared recently in Damage magazine — a project of the nonprofit Society for Psychoanalytic Inquiry funded by the American Psychoanalytic Foundation. “There are ways in which the internet really does seem to work like a possessing demon…” argues writer Sam Kriss.

“We tend to think that the internet is a communications network we use to speak to one another — but in a sense, we’re not doing anything of the sort. Instead, we are the ones being spoken through.”

Teens on TikTok all talk in the exact same tone, identical singsong smugness. Millennials on Twitter use the same shrinking vocabulary. My guy! Having a normal one! Even when you actually meet them in the sunlit world, they’ll say valid or based, or say y’all despite being British….

Everything you say online is subject to an instant system of rewards. Every platform comes with metrics; you can precisely quantify how well-received your thoughts are by how many likes or shares or retweets they receive. For almost everyone, the game is difficult to resist: they end up trying to say the things that the machine will like. For all the panic over online censorship, this stuff is far more destructive. You have no free speech — not because someone might ban your account, but because there’s a vast incentive structure in place that constantly channels your speech in certain directions. And unlike overt censorship, it’s not a policy that could ever be changed, but a pure function of the connectivity of the internet itself. This might be why so much writing that comes out of the internet is so unbearably dull, cycling between outrage and mockery, begging for clicks, speaking the machine back into its own bowels….

The internet is not a communications system. Instead of delivering messages between people, it simulates the experience of being among people, in a way that books or shopping lists or even the telephone do not. And there are things that a simulation will always fail to capture. In the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas, your ethical responsibility to other people emerges out of their face, the experience of looking directly into the face of another living subject. “The face is what prohibits us from killing….” But Facebook is a world without faces. Only images of faces; selfies, avatars: dead things. Or the moving image in a FaceTime chat: a haunted puppet. There is always something in the way. You are not talking to a person: the machine is talking, through you, to itself.

As more and more of your social life takes place online, you’re training yourself to believe that other people are not really people, and you have no duty towards them whatsoever. These effects don’t vanish once you look away from the screen…. many of the big conflicts within institutions in the last few years seem to be rooted in the expectation that the world should work like the internet. If you don’t like a person, you should be able to block them: simply push a button, and have them disappear forever.

The article revisits a 2011 meta-analysis that found massive declines in young people’s capacity for empathy, which the authors directly associated with the spread of social media. But then Kriss argues that “We are becoming less and less capable of actual intersubjective communication; more unhappy; more alone. Every year, surveys find that people have fewer and fewer friends; among millennials, 22% say they have none at all.

“For the first time in history, we can simply do without each other entirely. The machine supplies an approximation of everything you need for a bare biological existence: strangers come to deliver your food; AI chatbots deliver cognitive-behavioral therapy; social media simulates people to love and people to hate; and hidden inside the microcircuitry, the demons swarm…”

So while recent books look for historical antecedents, “I still think that the internet is a serious break from what we had before,” Kriss argues. “And as nice as Wikipedia is, as nice as it is to be able to walk around foreign cities on Google Maps or read early modern grimoires without a library card, I still think the internet is a poison.”

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Older People Using TikTok To Defy Ageist Stereotypes, Research Finds

Older TikTok users are using the online platform, regarded as the virtual playground of teenagers, to defy ageist stereotypes of elderly people as technophobic and frail. The Guardian reports: Research has found increasing numbers of accounts belonging to users aged 60 and older with millions of followers. Using the platform to showcase their energy and vibrancy, these TikTok elders are rewriting expectations around how older people should behave both on and off social media. “These TikTok elders have become successful content creators in a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest the stereotypes of old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status,” said Dr Reuben Ng, the author of the paper Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Ageing, and an assistant professor at Yale University. Interestingly, said Ng, most TikTok elders are women who “fiercely resist common stereotypes of older women as passive, mild-mannered and weak, instead opting to present themselves as fierce or even foul-mouthed,” he said. […]

The paper looked at 1,382 videos posted by TikTok users who were aged 60 or older and had between 100,000 and 5.3 million followers. In total, their videos, all of which explicitly discussed their age, had been viewed more than 3.5 billion times. Ng found that 71% of these videos — including those from accounts such as grandadjoe1933, who has 5.3 million followers, and dolly_broadway, who has 2.4 million followers — were used to defy age stereotypes. A recurring motif was the “glamma”, a portmanteau combining “glamorous” and “grandma”, with videos including those of a 70-year-old woman joyfully parading around the streets in a midriff-bearing top.

Almost one in five of the videos analyzed made light of age-related vulnerabilities, and one in 10 called out ageism among both younger people and their own contemporaries. Other videos positioned older users as superior to younger people. “I may be 86 but I can still drink more than you lightweights” says one clip. “I may be 86 but I can still twerk better than you,” says another, showing an octogenarian leaping up from a fall down the stairs with a twerk.

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‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Is Sending the TikTok Generation Spiraling Into Debt

SFGATE reports on the alarming rise of “Buy Now, Pay Later” services that are being heavily marketed by influencers and brands on TikTok and Instagram. “Gen Z, in particular, has fallen in love with the short-term loans, spending 925% more now through point-of-sale services than in January 2020,” notes the report.

“But coupling nearly instantaneous loans with an influencer-addled social media culture that prioritizes exorbitant spending and normalizes debt could be further jeopardizing the financial futures of young people through just four easy payments.” Here’s an excerpt from the report: Financial experts who spoke with SFGATE expressed significant concerns about the way companies are targeting Gen Z consumers. “They are marketing very heavily to an audience that is younger, that might not just have as much experience on how to use credit and what credit implications are or what it means to have multiple loans at one time,” Marisabel Torres, the California policy director of the Center for Responsible Lending, told SFGATE.

Few of the services do significant credit checks, which would help determine whether people will be able to repay the loans. And plenty of people are spending more than they can afford: 43% of Gen Z users have missed at least one payment, according to a survey by the polling site Piplsay. Of Gen Z consumers who used a point-of-sale loan for something they needed, 30% missed at least two payments, according to a survey by Credit Karma.

The companies are fully aware that their services encourage people to spend more. In fact, several of them market it as a benefit to stores that want to partner with them. “We do see larger cart sizes, larger purchases, relative to what they would put onto their debit cards and credit cards,” Libor Michalek, the president of technology at Affirm, told SFGATE. Still, high-level staffers at Affirm and Afterpay — both based in San Francisco — positioned their services as more responsible, less predatory alternatives to credit cards and personal loans in interviews with SFGATE. They also emphasized the accessibility of these services, especially for younger consumers looking to bolster their credit and consumers working to restore their credit scores, despite the fact that many of the services don’t report on-time payments to credit agencies. The report concludes by saying regulation is (probably) on its way. California Attorney General Rob Bonta, for example, signaled his support earlier this year for increasing regulations around point-of-sale loans. We’re likely to see other states look into it in the coming months and years as well.

“While these services may be a responsible alternative to credit card debt for a good chunk of consumers, it seems increasingly likely that, without regulations, this kind of debt will burden the most financially vulnerable, just as credit cards, payday loans and layaway have in the past,” reports SFGATE.

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