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DR MAX PEMBERTON: It’s not just Facebook: the entire internet is a risk to children

There was a time when Sheryl Sandberg could do no wrong. Facebook’s chief operating officer — or rather “Meta,” as it’s now called — was once the face of the modern successful woman. Capable, glamorous, and luckily, she’d made it to male-dominated Silicon Valley.

Her bestselling book Lean In was a clarion call to women everywhere to feel more confident, stand up and speak up. She was a leader that people wanted to follow. I remember seeing everyone reading it on the commute months after it was released. She was considered a messiah of our time and inspired women everywhere to try harder, aim higher.

Well, it looks like the halo is slipping a bit.

Facebook has come under constant fire in recent months for how it has handled online abuse, threats, censorship, safety and security. It has been dragged into several base scandals. As second in command, it’s starting to look less and less like something to brag about.

Mark Zuckerberg is starting to look like an internet bogeyman, rather than the quirky college student who happened to hit gold with an idea that linked friends.

dr.  Max Pemberton said Facebook is not the only platform that is barely monitored and dangerous, both in terms of bullying and adult grooming (file image)

dr. Max Pemberton said Facebook is not the only platform that is barely monitored and dangerous, both in terms of bullying and adult grooming (file image)

It was inevitable that Sandberg would eventually be somehow swept up in all of this. Last week, an anonymous whistleblower claimed Sandberg gave staff “constant” reminders to reflect on profits as they tried to deal with toxic content. According to the source, she helped create a culture that led executives to apply this approach even to child sexual abuse issues.

This really doesn’t look good. She comes across as just another obnoxious, indifferent corporate fat cat.

Lean in? You feel that people are actively leaning forward. Last week, another whistleblower, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who released tens of thousands of damaging documents about the media giant’s inner workings, told MPs that Zuckerberg has “unilateral control over three billion people” because of his unassailable position at the top of the business.

She further called for urgent external regulation to rein in the technology company’s management and reduce the harm to society.

This seems to be a long time coming. The fact that a company – and a company that makes billions every year – can operate with such pathetically sparse regulation is simply unbelievable, especially when you consider the enormous damage it can do, especially to young people.

It doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider the tightly controlled health and safety regulations that apply to most areas of life, especially for children.

Schools, municipalities, shops, clubs and organizations are burdened by regulations and red tape to guarantee the safety of children. Try taking a child on a school trip these days. Some schools have even banned children from playing in the playground, for God’s sake. Still, they are allowed to roam freely on websites, meaning they can chat with all sorts of people, from bullying peers to predatory pedophiles – how on earth did this situation develop?

dr.  Max Pemberton (pictured) said the law needs to be much more robust to ensure companies take responsibility for the safety of their users

dr.  Max Pemberton (pictured) said the law needs to be much more robust to ensure companies take responsibility for the safety of their users

dr. Max Pemberton (pictured) said the law needs to be much more robust to ensure companies take responsibility for the safety of their users

We know this is a problem – it’s why there’s such a hoo-ha around the Facebook whistleblowers – but we have to remember that it’s not just Facebook.

While adults are concerned about the site, the kids have actually long since moved elsewhere.

In fact, the newest generation has never really been on Facebook.

Most of the young people I speak to only have an account to keep in touch with family. They certainly don’t interact with each other there. It is considered a platform for old people.

Scientists have developed a five-minute test that they claim can predict your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease in up to 15 years. The company will start an NHS trial soon, but you can’t count me. I can’t think of anything worse than knowing that you run the risk of developing something for which there is no cure.

That’s not to say Facebook doesn’t have issues — it certainly does. And of course, it is also responsible for other sites like Instagram and WhatsApp, which are definitely more of a grip on the younger generation. But there are many other platforms, chat services and forums that are much more popular these days.

It’s a minefield to keep abreast of what’s happening. Most of these sites fly well under the radar of parents and politicians. Talk to a teen and they’ll mention Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, GroupMe, Whisper, Yik Yak… the list goes on. Many of these sites are barely monitored and it seems dangerous to me, both in terms of bullying and adult grooming.

So what’s the answer? Yes, let’s introduce rules and controls. And of course, let’s hold Facebook to account. But remember, there’s a lot more that adults don’t know about. The law needs to be much more robust to ensure that companies take responsibility for the safety of their users, in the same way we would expect any other company or organization operating in a physical space.

But it also comes down to parents – just as you should expect to know where your child is and who they are leaving the house with, you should expect the same transparency when it comes to the digital world. Because, as it turns out, it’s far more dangerous than many of us would like to admit.

Group therapy with Adele

dr.  Max said the whole audience was in tears when he attended an Adele concert (pictured) a few years ago

dr.  Max said the whole audience was in tears when he attended an Adele concert (pictured) a few years ago

dr. Max said the whole audience was in tears when he attended an Adele concert (pictured) a few years ago

Adele has managed to do it again. Her new single Easy On Me went straight to number one and this weekend tickets to next summer’s Hyde Park concerts sold out in under five minutes. This woman really knows how to pull the strings of the heart, doesn’t she? I think her brilliance – and massive popularity – lies in her ability to softly articulate feelings that many of us struggle to even acknowledge, let alone understand.

I remember going to an Adele concert a few years ago. I wasn’t a fan at the time, but she totally won me over. What struck me was how the entire audience – and I mean everyone – was in tears. It was extraordinary, like a giant group therapy exercise. I had never seen anything like it and it helped me understand its mass appeal. It provides us with a safe, enclosed space to explore acutely painful feelings. A class act.

  • A general who led the Royal Marines’ invasion of Iraq has been appointed to lead the biggest shake-up of NHS management in 40 years. Sir Gordon Messenger has been asked to ban ‘waste and wakery’ and ensure ‘every pound is well spent’. Thank God. If anyone can do it, it’s him.

The NHS could learn so much from the military. Isn’t it telling that when we need something that needs to be done right, we don’t look to NHS management for the answer, but to the military?

As the PPE fiasco unfolded, it was the military we had to rely on to get things going. And also in test centers. Episodes like this make you realize how much time and resources are wasted in healthcare by people who always feel like they’re worth their two cents.

Many of those in the NHS could use some military discipline.

£32, pantherella.com

£32, pantherella.com

£32, pantherella.com

Doctor Max prescribes…

cashmere socks

I’m a big believer in the mental boost we get from treating ourselves to little luxuries every now and then. And what could be more luxurious when it gets colder than fine-knit cashmere socks? I’ve been trying to support UK manufacturing since the pandemic so I especially love these from Pantherella, which are made in Leicester.

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