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    Do Smartphones and Social Networks Really Pose a Threat to Kids?

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    A group of former Google and Facebook employees have issued a warning about the negative effects social networks and smartphones have on society. Their campaign, called The Truth about Technology, seeks to educate students, parents and teachers about the dangers and side effects high-tech devices pose.

    Sputnik discussed the effects of technology on people with Sun Joo Ahn, Associate Professor at the University of Georgia.

    Sputnik: The effect of technology has been hotly debated in recent months, what are your thoughts on the matter?

    Sun Joo Ahn: The current concern, some parts of it may be valid, but there are other parts that are too deterministic on technology. Technology right now is more of a tool that helps us achieve different goals and the word "addiction" is too strong of a concept to use when we're using these tools in our daily lives.

    Sputnik: Campaigners accuse tech giants of specifically designing addictive products for children. What's your take on the addiction? Obviously it's a great concern for children if they're addicted at age 8, 9, 10 ect. It's going to follow them all the way through their lives, isn't it?

    Sun Joo Ahn: Yes, what addiction implies is that there's a physiological reliance on technology, I don't know if this is the right word to use for this, even traditional platforms in the past, for instance, advertising on television or advertising on radio, have all been using some sort of persuasive technique; this isn't new in terms of getting people more engaged in media content. A lot of media providers or content providers have been working very hard to get people engaged in their content. Technology shouldn't be any different in the sense that they're also working hard to get people engaged in the content.

    READ MORE: Shareholders Urge Apple to Develop Tools to Address Child Smartphone Addiction

    Sputnik: Facebook has just released this messenger application specifically focused on children and some experts have stated that this issue has to be addressed by parents rather than children. Are the parents are the ones who are addicted to their devices? And what's your take on the Facebook messenger application for children? Is it a good thing, moving forward?

    Sun Joo Ahn: I am also concerned, in my position as a parent, in the sense that I am trying to get my child to learn how to use the media appropriately. That being said, the Facebook messenger is again a tool and it really differs in term of how parents and children make use of it. If parents are well-educated and they're able to get children to understand the dangers and the advantages of this tool, then I think it might be fine. However, if the parents don't have any channels of education for media literacy, they don't understand the potential dangers or they don't understand the potential benefits of this platform, so of course it could go either way.

    I think at this point, if there is a new technology, there does need to be a level of education for both parents and children to get them to understand this platform a little bit better. We wouldn't give anyone a completely new tool and expect them to understand it right off the bat, which is actually what we're doing with technology; we do need to provide a level of media literacy, education for both the youngsters and their parents.

    Sputnik: Is there a solution? Is the campaign seeking to introduce standards of ethical design to help the industry discourage digital addiction? Can an ethical code really stop tech companies from exploiting people? I think it's going to be very difficult, but there does need to be some kind of regulation. What are your thoughts?

    Sun Joo Ahn: Yes, there is some sort of ethical code that provides guidelines, at least for the parents to follow, and allows them to educate their kids in terms of privacy issues and so on and so forth. I think it's really a healthy beginning; of course it might not be enough to solve all of the problems. However, I do think that this is a good start to getting the conversation going.

    Sputnik: What's your best advice and what do you recommend? This is your particular expertise; I'm sure you got advice, recommendations that you pass and share with people. What's the best advice for parents who have young children?

    Sun Joo Ahn: Children in the past have been watching television since they were 18 months old and nothing exploded, they were exposed to advertisements since they were really young and they seem to have grown up pretty fine. I think the issue with technology is that if there are concerns, parents should research a little bit more in terms of what the concerning issues are and how can I protect my family, in hindsight educate my child to use this tool really well, because any tool can be used in a good way or a bad way. It really depends on how well you understand the different features of this tool and how are you able to use it to your benefit.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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