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How a Facebook Whistle-Blower Is Stoking the Kids’ Screen Time Debate

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Photographer: Yalana/iStockphoto
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The latest burst of recriminations directed at social media emphasizes the harm that can be done to teenagers. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook Inc. product manager turned whistle-blower, says executives at Facebook are aware of research showing the company’s Instagram photo-sharing platform in particular can be detrimental to teenage girls with body-image issues. Even before the pandemic increased the time most people spend online, many parents worried about attention-sapping “screen time” warping child development.

Even now that most kids are back at school, texting, social media and online video consumption is the way kids stay connected and socialize, at least in wealthy countries. How that might be a bad thing (and a good thing) is fertile ground for researchers trying to catch up with the rapid adoption of new devices and platforms by younger and younger kids. On phones, tablets, consoles and laptops, kids are gaming, chatting on Discord, commenting on live streams on Twitch -- even as they deal with the traditional adolescent stew of school, peer pressure and hormones. They’re figuring it out in front of an audience of hundreds if not thousands of “friends” commenting in real time on what they do, and -- via Snapchat and Instagram -- how they look.