CEO Poll: Social Media Poses Threats To Kids And Needs More Regulation

A stunning 100 percent of the CEOs polled at a Yale event on Tuesday said they believe social media platforms posed a threat to pre-teens and teens when it comes to critical behaviors like confidence and body image, with 53 percent saying they thought it was a “strong threat.”

The idea that social media platforms pose threats to some pre-teens and teenagers and that government regulators should do more to mitigate those threats has long been an accepted idea among many academics and parents.

But that idea now appears to be gaining serious traction in the business community as well.

At a summit of chief executives and political leaders hosted by Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute on Tuesday, a stunning 100 percent of the CEOs polled said they believe social media platforms posed a threat to pre-teens and teens when it comes to critical developmental issues such as their sense of confidence and their body image, with 53 percent saying they thought it was a “strong threat.”

None of the 50 or so CEOs polled—who represented some of the world’s largest corporations outside of Silicon Valley—said the platforms posed “no threat” or were “neutral/indifferent.”

Nor could the companies themselves be trusted to police their own platforms anymore, according to the CEOs polled. An overwhelming 88 percent said they disagreed with the statement “I have confidence in the ability and judgement of social media companies in content moderation and policing.”

Asked if government should “intervene in the practices of social media giants to mitigate the threats presented to pre-teens and teenagers,” 80 percent of the CEOs polled said “yes.”

The poll is a clear sign of how pervasive the idea has become that social media platforms—especially Facebook—now pose a threat to children and adolescents. In the past, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, who convened the session, there was a sense among business leaders that the tech companies would be able to fix themselves, but now, CEOs appear to believe the problems have slipped beyond the control of the technologists.

“There was incredible bipartisan, cross-industry concern and a recommendation for government intervention when it comes to social media,” Sonnenfeld said of Tuesday’s polling. “These are not campus theorists or journalists. These are highly pragmatic business problem solvers.”

The poll results come the wake of the bombshell reporting by The Wall Street Journal that alleged Facebook had become aware of numerous problems with the way user behavior—especially among some young women—had been negatively, even dangerously, influenced by their engagement with Instagram, but the company failed to dramatically alter the platform or their policies as a result of their own internal research.

In recent days Facebook reportedly shelved plans to introduce a version of Instagram targeted at children.

“I think it’s an obvious issue that we do need to regulate social media to adolescents,” Rep. Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.) who represents the 17th Congressional District of California, which encompasses Silicon Valley, said during the Summit. “The first amendment does not have the same protections for people under 18. That’s established Supreme court jurisprudence. And if you have a product that is harming the well-being—either the mental health or the physical wellbeing of kids—it ought to be regulated.”

The question, of course is how, he said. “It’s a very complicated issue. I don’t think there’s simplistic solutions. We need everyone on this calls’ insights for how we turn social media into an engine that’s better for our democracy as opposed to undermining it.”

In other polls taken at the event, CEOs seemed far more optimistic about the nation’s technology future. Asked how they thought the United States stacked up against China when it comes to technological capabilities and innovation, some 60 percent said the U.S. was either moderately or significantly more advanced. And 71 percent of those surveyed said they disagreed with the idea that the U.S. was “rapidly falling behind in technology innovation and no longer at the forefront of high-tech growth.”

Dan Bigman is Editor and Chief Content Officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net, Boardmember.com and StrategicCFO360. Previously he was Managing Editor at Forbes and the founding business editor of NYTimes.com.