A common digital thread runs through two, more likely three, unconnected and on the surface incongruous events with a combined effect of restoring faith in the impact of social media on young minds. An everyday kids' online gaming bubble, whilst outside a typical Scottish village scene, suddenly disrupted by a real-life drama in an otherwise quiet country lane.
It has been well-documented how today's youngsters rule the networked world. Generation Alpha, as they've become known, integrate tech very much as second nature in their lives. Never questioning what happens to their personal information or the long-term effects such exposure to often inflammatory content has on young minds.
has reported that the Children's Commissioner for England is currently backing a 12-year-old girl to advance a legal challenge against TikTok. Claiming the social networking site has misused the data of its young users, it's a timely move, especially as a new StockApps survey reveals that a third of teenagers in the West currently use the Chinese-owned video sharing service.
It is believed as many as 80% of youngsters have an online/mobile presence when as young as two years old, usually through older family members and their friends before assuming a social media identity of their own. Big tech outfits like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, are under greater pressure to take collective action to eradicate exploitation and abuse online, but they might as well just hand over a smartphone as a christening gift. (Hope I haven't given them their latest marketing wheeze.)
Meanwhile, often it's the story within a story that provides the key. Picture the scene, that quiet country lane where some residents still leave the latch off the front door. A local youngster, bedecked with wireless headphones participating virtually via Xbox 'Player UnBattlegrounds' or PlayStation 5 PUBG battle royale equivalent, with a pal who is upwards of 100 miles away as the cybercrow flies.
Suddenly there's a commotion out in the village street and the gaming duo do not hesitate to swing into action across the ether. Firing a series of texts to all and sundry to lock their doors and summon the emergency authorities. Job done. Similar to the timeslip finale of the Galaxy Quest
film, when a kids' network saves the day by guiding the stranded-in-space crew home.
It's not the first time such a rescue operation has resulted from social media activity. Take tropical cyclone Oswald or Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes in both Haiti and Asia, and tsunami in Indonesia and Japen. When the normal everyday methods of communication are down, these social mediums can become powerful tools, proving lifesavers in terms of evacuation declarations and vital news updates to people cut-off and at risk from such natural disasters.
Social media can also provide positive interactions through educational videos via YouTube, for example, to widen childrens' knowledge – along with improving access to diversity and increasing inclusion, whilst reducing social isolation. In its simplest forms, children and teenagers use social media for fun, friendships, to explore identities and share interests.
Yet the nagging question remains on whether social media has an overall negative effect, especially on young minds unable to filter out a darker side of the internet ready to exploit fragile reputations and their privacy. With all of this very much in mind, the legal challenge surrounding the potentially groundbreaking TikTok case is based on the claim that it has misused the claimant's private information and processed their personal data.
A written submission on behalf of the Children's Commissioner alleges that the personal data at issue is used in an algorithm which analyses the user's preferences in order to tailor the content presented to them to capture and keep their attention.
The 'user' in question is an unidentified child from London but in reality they could come from practically anywhere – including that quiet Scottish village. Tellingly, a High Court judge said that it involves serious criticisms of what may be key aspects of the social media platform's mode of operation.
The UK communications watchdog is about to get new powers to block online platforms which fail to protect users and will be able to impose heavy fines of up to £18 million for a single breach. Make no mistake, every
social media company on the planet is taking note.
Bill Magee is a freelance journalist who specialises in business and finance. He has written for many publications including The Scotsman, The Times, Business Insider and Reuters