My wife saw my copy of Talking Back to Facebook by James P. Steyer on the table, not far from where our teenage son was using his Facebook app to do an update, and immediately took it from me and began reading it. We’ve been sharing it back and forth (I finished it first! I l know, it wasn’t a race but still …) and I’ve been leaving it around for my son to look at. He’s conveniently ignored it. But we haven’t.
(If you want to see my updates as I was reading the book, you can check out the Goodreads site).
Steyer, the CEO of CommonSense Media, comes out strong with worries about the ways the social media revolution is affecting our children, and uses Facebook’s status as King of the Hill to urge parents and politicians to pay attention, and to take action. While a bit strident at times (which will come as no surprise to anyone who follows the CommonSense Media site regularly, as I do), Steyer does a nice job of providing a valid framework for concerns over the ways that technology is impacting our young people’s childhoods. He does acknowledge the many benefits of social networking and technology, but mostly, this book zeroes in why we need to be aware of what is happening in online spaces like Facebook.
He notes that Facebook, despite its policy of not allowing children under 13 years of age to join, does very little to stop it (and I can support that view, given the number of my sixth graders on the network). He also says that Facebook’s continued use of resetting privacy features for users means that more and more children are sharing information that is best kept private. He urges parents to be more vigilant, and notes that when a new parent snaps that first image of their newborn baby and posts it online, they are unwittingly creating the first “digital footprint” of their child, without much forethought as to what that means.
What I like is that Steyer, while giving solid advice to parents, also calls Facebook, Google and others onto the floor, arguing strongly that leaders of those corporations have a moral obligation to protect our children, and they have not yet lived up to that obligation. Instead, he notes, companies see our children as “point of data” that can be manipulated and sold for profit. Steyer says the government needs to do more oversight, but that it also falls to parents to be more vigilant on behalf of our children.
Overall, this book is a worthy summer read, whether you are a parent or a teacher, or just know a young person who is on Facebook. We need to pay attention. As for my wife and I, and our son, we’re going to be having a more indepth conversation about the time he spends on his mobile devices, and figure out more ways to reduce that time. We’re gearing up for an argument, but hope to keep our stance strong and positive. In the end, we’re parents, not friends.
Peace (in talking back to talking back to Facebook),