In the past year, there has been increasing attention placed on children and teenagers’ usage of social media and its impacts on them. The Surgeon General’s office has previously warned of mental health risks associated with social media for children under 18. Last week, in a significant move to address these concerns, a bipartisan group of 33 Attorneys General sued Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta, claiming features on its platforms target children and teens, are addictive, and have a negative impact on mental health.

The latest CivicScience polling data following the lawsuits show 90% of U.S. adults believe social media usage by children under 18 is at least ‘somewhat harmful,’ compared to just 4% who believe it is ‘completely harmless and safe.’ Gen Z adults, who are much more frequent social media users, are far more likely than Baby Boomers to view social media usage by kids and teens as mostly harmless.

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Exposure to graphic and violent content on social media is prevalent.

The Israel-Hamas conflict further underscores the potential harms of social media usage, as graphic footage has been flooding the platforms. CivicScience polling shows nearly half (46%) of respondents say they have been exposed to violent or disturbing content from the war recently. Nearly 30% of social media users report unintentionally coming across graphic videos of the conflict. Unintentional exposure to violent content and videos on social media rises to 34% among X (formerly Twitter) users and 31% of Instagram users, and falls to a quarter among TikTok users. 

Despite this, consumer trust in social media platforms is on the rise.

Interestingly, even with concerns over potential harm and exposure to extreme content, ongoing CivicScience tracking finds trust in major social media platforms has gone up since 2021 – among the Gen Pop and parents 18+. YouTube (+7 percentage points) and Facebook (+4 points) represent the largest increase in the percentage of consumers who have ‘medium’ or ‘high’ trust in the platforms to protect young users. X (formerly Twitter) was the only platform not to increase, instead holding steady around 16%. However, the majority across each platform say they have low to no trust – including two-thirds of those polled about TikTok. 

How consumers use social media appears to contribute to their level of trust. For instance, how frequently they’re using social media and if they use it as a source for news. In terms of Facebook, its most frequent users are more likely to trust Facebook’s ability to safeguard young users. Additionally, CivicScience has previously shown more consumers are turning to social media as their first source for breaking news – these consumers are also more trusting of Facebook’s protections.

Parents believe the older the better for when to start their children on social media.

With much for parents to consider when it comes to their children and how they use social media, what age do they believe is appropriate for their kids to start using these platforms? Today, 54% of U.S. parents (18+) now consider 16 or older as the acceptable minimum age for social media usage – an increase of three percentage points since 2021. Data show a corresponding decrease in parents who are comfortable with their children commencing social media use at the age of 12 or younger, dropping from 19% to 16% as of October 2023. It’s also important to note that every major platform requires its users to be at least 13 years old. 

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