Parents Willing to Pay to Control Social Media Algorithms
and Recommendations for Teens and Self

Mental Health are top concerns for parents, which 73% attribute to social media.  Our study shows that there's a compelling and sustainable business model to provide parents and teens some rein over their algorithms and recommendations.  

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By Liz Puccianti

November 1, 2022

       Incite Fusion recently completed a nationwide survey with 500+ parents on youth and social media.  We were inspired by a story about a caregiver who wanted her mom to reduce the volume of content she was reading on social media about conspiracy theories. Her solution was to click repeatedly on moderate stories from reliable news sources to change the algorithm for what was recommended to her aging parent.  As a parent myself, of two tweens (11 and 13 years old) who love their social platforms, I wanted to explore what tools parents are using to manage social media and what gaps can be addressed by the technology industry. 

 

Goals of the Study:

  • Understand parents’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their kids’ social media use

  • Understand effectiveness of tools that parents use to manage social media algorithms and recommendations in order to control the impact of social media on their children

  • Explore gaps and opportunities that can be addressed by the technology industry

 

Key Takeaways:

  • After gun violence, mental health is a top concern for parents, which almost three-quarters attribute to social media.

  • 8 out of 10 parents nationwide are willing to pay an average of $30 a month for the ability to manage social media algorithms and recommendations to their kids. 

  • By age 14, parents think their kids would be mature enough to use such a tool to self-manage their own content on most social media apps. 

  • Despite spending an average of $115 a month, only 55% of parents are satisfied with current subscription-based or hardware-based social media management apps, generally from 3rd party companies.

  • 8 out of 10 parents believe that social media providers need to be actively involved in the development of tools to manage social media content

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Parents Would Pay $30 Per Month For The Ability To Manage Social Media Algorithms For Kids

       Eight out of ten parents (83%) indicate they would be willing to pay for the ability to control & manage social media content access and recommendations (e.g. algorithms) for their children.   Parents would pay on average of $30 per month to manage social media content, including what content is accessed and recommended to their kids.  Ideally, parents want this tool to work across social media apps like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook.  

       Reasons parents gave for this investment..

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       Parents recognize the positive aspects of social media, which allows their kids to stay connected with friends/family (84%) and explore creative hobbies (83%), but also wrestle with the risks of oversharing (75%) and the impacts on mental health (73%). 

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       While Gun Violence was a top concern for parents, it was followed closely by mental health and online dangers, which included: #2 Bullying / Cyberbullying, #3 Depression / Suicide, and #4 Internet Safety (e.g.: online predators, phishing, and sharing of personal information). 

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       Even with these concerns, parents actually do not want to police their children over social media content, but rather want their children to be smarter at social media and to have easy-to-use algorithmic tools to manage their own content. The average age that parents feel their kids are mature enough to manage their own social content using such tools is 14.7 years old. But such tools are not just useful for tweens and teens, as one-half of parents (51%) indicate such tools could help them with their own social media use and management.

When asked what age is appropriate for specific app usage,  parents say:
 

  • 14.2 yrs old for YouTube 

  • 15.2 yrs old for Discord, FaceBook & TikTok

  • 15.4 yrs old for Snapchat 

  • 15.5 yrs old for Instagram & Reddit

  • 15.8 yrs old for Twitter

 

Yet the reality is that parents introduce their children to these apps at much earlier ages because they can still wade through appropriate content when use is still 1-2 hours a week. After 11 years old, the number of usage hours increases above 10 hours per week.

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Current Solutions: limited, complicated and costly

       Last year, the global social media management market was valued at USD $15.19 Billion.   U.S. parents are currently spending an average of $115 per month on software and hardware tools to manage their children’s social media usage. Three-quarters of parents (73%) have tried subscription-based apps like Qustodio, Bark, Norton Family and Net Nanny to manage social media content for their kids, but only half (55%) are satisfied with these products.

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So, who should be developing new and better tools?

       Eight out of ten parents (80%) feel the social media provider needs to be involved in some way in their development, as existing tools without support and collaboration from the social media supplier can be limited in function, complex, clunky and expensive.

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What else do parents want?

 

       If parents could design what content gets recommended to their kids, they would ask for content that: #1 teaches my kids math, science and/or computer science, #2 teaches my kids creative skills, #3 helps my kids have a positive outlook on life, #4 builds a growth mindset for my kids, #5 helps my kids communicate and socialize fact-to-face, #6 strengthens my children’s mental health.  

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       In order for parents to achieve this, they will need a better rating system for social media content. Almost three-quarters of parents (70%) feel “age appropriate” rating are a “Must Have” for social media content, followed by “content warnings for violence, sex nudity, etc.” As with the movie industry, ratings for social media content need to be standardized so that content management algorithms can be most effective.

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Demographic Profile of our Parents

 

       We have a broad representative sample of parents in our study, across socio-economic and political divides.

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Conclusions & Recommendations:
 

This study shows that there’s a compelling business model for social media developers to build effective tools for managing social media algorithms and recommendations.  These tools can be commercially viable, while beneficial to the long-term well-being of our youth and society.

 

  • Parents are willing to pay $30/month for these tools, because the mental health impact is very real and timely for their children.  

  • Technology innovators have a compelling business argument to investors, venture capitalists and funders that these tools are desperately needed.  

  • These tools are most effective if they are built in collaboration with social media developers, as most current solutions are limited.  

  • Parents have some level of trust that these tools can best be developed by or with social media developers.

 

We have a standard rating system for the movie industry, why not for social media content? 

  • Social Media developers like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok can include more standardized categories of ratings for content developers on their platforms to break out content appropriateness for kids e.g. strong profanity, graphic nudity, sex, intense violence, etc.  

  • This further helps parents and youth navigate the content that is recommended, building a viable, sustainable relationship between parents, youth and social media.   

 

Social Media developers need to track sustainable engagement metrics, that are smarter at really understanding the true loyalty and well-being of their users over their life-time.

  • Social Media developers like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok should be tracking metrics beyond just “number of views” and “clicks” - such as…

    • content that “builds creativity”

    • content that “boosts positivity” 

    • content that “recharges me”

    • content that "educates me"

It’s an important issue for parents, regardless of political affiliation.  

  • Any legislation around this issue should be bipartisan - as parents share common concerns for their children regarding social media.

Next Steps...

  • More collaboration and research is required:

    • Social Media, start-ups, technologists, researchers, youth and parents, should collaborate to co-create, brainstorm, conceptualize and prototype what these tools and standards should be, in look, feel and use.   

REFERENCES

  1. Nationwide representative study sample of U.S. parents, with N=501 web survey completes conducted between Sept. 29 - Oct. 3, 2022 with margin of error of 3.7% at the 90% confidence level.

  2. Parents were asked “For the next set of questions, please rate how much you agree/disagree with each statement regarding media usage and your child(ren).”.  For this statement, "I am willing to pay for the ability to control & manage social media content recommendations (e.g. algorithms) for my child(ren)" - parents who selected "Completely Agree" or "Agree", or "Somewhat Agree" were used in the calculation.  The percentages are 40%, 26% and 17% respectively, which total 83%.

  3. Parents were asked “For the next set of questions, please rate how much you agree/disagree with each statement regarding media usage and your child(ren).”  The Agree/Disagree scale is as follows: Completely Agree, Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree, Disagree, Completely Disagree

  4. Parents are asked to rank 12 concerns regarding their children:  Gun violence, Bullying/cyberbullying, Depression/suicide, Internet safety (ie online predators, phishing, sharing personal information, etc.), Use of drugs/alcohol, Unhealthy eating, College affordability, Stress/anxiety, Poverty, Overuse of social media, Racism, Smoking/vaping

  5. Q15 - If it was possible to manage/control content access and recommendations (e.g. algorithms) from social media apps, at what age do you think your child(ren) would be mature enough to manage content access and recommendations by themselves?

  6. https://www.yahoo.com/now/social-media-management-market-hit-134200126.html