shutterstock_147019409__1392833515_142.196.156.251As a parent, PBS’s new Frontline documentary, Generation Like frightens meIt brings my fear of the pervasiveness of social media in our kids’ lives to the next level, by showing just how deeply brands engage with kids online, how kids have little regard for privacy and how some parents don’t have a clue about how dangerous the Internet can be.

The first disturbing point made in the documentary was that kids are becoming marketing minions for brands – usually completely for free – just by engaging with their interests online. Harmless likes and tweets translate to huge marketing pushes for brands:

Major corporations have long spent billions trying to get kids to engage with their products… now that the way kids consume media has changed, the companies that want to reach them know they need to change, too.

We all know kids have a lot of purchasing power. They have their hands on their parents’ purse-strings and advertisers know how valuable they are. The massive engagement kids have with brands on social media – simply by “liking” and “tweeting” products are making them valuable commodities to advertisers. And if you’ve ever “liked” a brand on Facebook or used an app brands like to provide, you may understand how your privacy starts to dwindle with every tap of the keyboard – as advertisers request access to things like your friends list and personal information before you can proceed.

Bonin Bough V.P. Global Media, Mondelez Intl. explains,”The icons of this generation are the like button, the tweet button, the reblog button – this is the biggest transformation that we’ve had in terms of communicating with consumers in our lifetime. To not learn how to participate in those channels is outrageous. So to stand on the sideline is not an option.” Frontline elaborates, “As a corporate marketing executive, Bough understands that when kids like something, it becomes part of who they are. And if kids want to express themselves by advertising his company’s products like Oreo Cookies, he’s happy to oblige.”

The documentary illustrates that either our kids don’t understand the importance of privacy online – or they simply don’t care. Engaging with brands gives something back to these kids – Internet fame and stuff. Usually not actual currency – and if so, it’s marginal. We see the story of YouTube sensation Baby Scumbag, a prolific young skater who is a walking billboard for the brands that sponsor him. He has a huge YouTube following of viewers who love his little scumbag antics, but his family lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Compton.

Then there’s Daniella Diaz - a southern california eighth-grader who loves to sing. About a year ago, encouraged by her mother, she started making videos at home. Her mom thinks she has a “special” voice and says she’s nurtured her talent. She encouraged her to make videos covering popular songs. Her music videos moved to videos where she was simply “interacting” with her viewers. “I like interacting with my fans,” she says. So much so, she moved to Instagram where she could interact with them visually. Her mom says, “Instagram is what she uses… I’m also the one that takes the pictures on that,” she beams, “I said, ‘wear this, wear this,’ and I will take the picture… I hate to say it but if I have a full body picture, she will get tons of likes. And that’s just the reality.” So we have a mother posting full body photos of her eight-grader in a bikini to a public account on Instagram for “likes” – which basically equals nothing but a cyber ego-stroke.

Brands are mining data from kids, the fantasy of the “viral Internet star” is driving  those kids to disregard all personal privacy and some parents are so clueless to the dangers of removing such privacies they are actually posting half-naked pictures of their eight-graders to public photo accounts – that have mapping options, I might add. There’s a lot more in the documentary to depress you, so if you missed it you can watch it online.

(photo: Sarawut Aiemsinsuk/ Shutterstock)