What it's like as an 11-year-old on the internet

Building products and being a parent are both tough jobs that require immense amounts of influencing skill. Each week I share what I learn to help leaders at work and at home go from unsure to unstoppable through influence.

What I’ve been learning

Power can be used for good or bad. Many of the best technologies also have the worst applications. Product managers are critical in guiding the ethical creation and use of products. While metrics like MRR, activated users, or ROI of marketing campaigns are important, sometimes real impact comes from attention to issues that aren’t always top-of-mind for companies.

boy playing at laptop inside room

Sloane Ryan is a 37-year-old mother who also runs the Special Projects Team at Bark. They help protect kids on the internet.

Sloane recently posed as an 11-year old girl on Instagram:

I upload the photo to Instagram — a generic, innocuous selfie of Bailey with an ear-to-ear smile — and caption it.

v excitedd to see my friends this weekend at carly’s party! Ilysm!! followed by a string of emojis and a #friends hashtag

The photo publishes on Instagram and we wait quietly for something on the big screen to change.

By the end of the week, she’d been approached by 52 men. Read the full article here (warning that it is disturbing and shares many explicit things they found as they did this test, but I feel that this is critical, especially for parents and product managers to be aware of).

Key lessons for me after reading about this experience:

  1. Product Managers need to be aware of the broader impact their products have. More and more products have unintended negative influences including enabling abuse and addiction. For too many successful companies this is an afterthought vs a core part of the culture from the beginning.

  2. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Your measure of success and what you choose to ignore says a lot about your company and you as a person. Models like the hooked model are helpful in building better products. They can also enable unethical behavior as well.

  3. Parents need to work extra hard to be aware of technology around them and be deliberate about their choices to expose their children to the internet.

  4. For parents who are tired of fighting and being the only one who doesn’t allow certain things, know that you aren’t alone. Even as “everyone has a phone” there are still some who don’t. My wife and I have some fairly strict policies for technology that we feel are serving our family well, even while we are a fairly tech-loving family.

If you aren’t deliberate about your choices, then many choices will be made for you by others.

This was an especially impactful story to me since I have an 11-year-old daughter. One of my main goals in life is to raise happy, healthy children who can become happy, healthy, independent adults. While the main responsibility for this rests with individual parents, more and more companies are having influence over children. My hope is that more leaders and product managers choose to contribute to the raising of healthy, happy kids, even while the opposite can be lucrative.


I’m not spending time during the break to publish, but I am excited to keep learning and writing come January.

I appreciate the comments I get back each week and am excited to have seen the growth since starting this a few months ago. I would appreciate feedback from you about what topics have been most interesting to you and what will continue to make this newsletter valuable to you (original writings, simple curation, small quotes, etc).

Thank you. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here’s to a great 2020.

Ryan

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