Snap, Chat, Repeat: How Young People Are Interacting With AI Everyday

Children are deeply entrenched in a digital world, continuously interacting with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence as a part of their everyday. Whether they’re using Google Maps to navigate their way to school, researching for an assignment or reverse-image searching a cute sweater, sophisticated algorithms are working behind the scenes to present them with the most relevant information. But beyond these interactions lie other, less obvious ways children engage with AI.

At the Cyber Safety Project, we recognise the rapidly evolving relationship between children and technology, and this is precisely why we are committed to student-led and informed research. By listening to students, we gain invaluable insights into emerging digital trends and better understand how the younger generation is moulding and being moulded by technology. This article aims to enlighten parents about how children engage with AI and advanced technology that they may not wholly understand. By increasing the literacy of parents, we hope to empower you to have conversations with the children in your care about how they can use this technology safely and ethically.

TikTok as a Search Engine

TikTok utilises AI algorithms extensively to deliver a personalised feed to its users. There has been an increase in children who use TikTok as their main search engine, often looking for information and advice here before turning to traditional search engines such as Google. This is a concerning trend, as all of TikTok’s content is user-generated, with a large chunk of that contributed by teenagers, who are far from qualified to provide expert advice. Whilst this content model fosters creativity, this user-driven model can sometimes compromise the accuracy and reliability of information, spreading misinformation and disinformation.

The disparity between content catered to different age groups is also worth considering. While your TikTok feed might be filled with DIY projects, cooking recipes, or cleaning hacks, younger audiences are more likely to be exposed to trending social challenges. Some of these challenges, although popular, can border on being unsafe or propagate potentially harmful viral trends. This underscores the need to monitor what your child is being exposed to in their feed and understand the platform’s evolving dynamics.

Conversation starters for you and your child:

  • How does TikTok decide what to show you on your feed?
  • Do you use TikTok to search for information?
  • How do you know if the information you find is reliable?
  • Why might the information you find on here be more/less reliable than information you find on other platforms?
  • How can you identify the expertise level of a TikTok user?
  • How can you check whether the information you find on TikTok is accurate?

Snapchat: My AI

Another noteworthy platform is Snapchat and its recent addition, My AI. Introduced earlier this year, My AI boasts natural language processing capabilities, enabling it to mimic human conversations seamlessly. This can be particularly intriguing and potentially misleading for children, who might not realise they’re conversing with lines of code and algorithms.

To an extent, Snapchat has been transparent regarding the limitations of My AI. The company conceded that the tool might occasionally provide information that could be misleading or even inappropriate. This raises serious concerns about the feature’s safety, especially when younger users are involved. Furthermore, My AI has access to Snap Maps and other user data, which can then be used for personalised advertising targeting.

Although Snapchat’s minimum age requirement is 13, we know many younger children use it, so it is crucial to understand and monitor these platforms to ensure they are safe for our young people.

Conversation starters for you and your child:

  • Do you use Snapchat’s My AI feature?
  • Why is this feature appealing to you?
  • Who are you chatting to when you use this feature
  • Can you guarantee the information provided by My AI is accurate? Why not?
  • How can you check whether or not the information you find on Snapchat’s My AI is accurate?

Filters and Deepfakes

The use of AI in technologies that create photorealistic filters or allow face swaps with celebrities means that online content can’t always be trusted. A younger audience might not have the digital literacy to distinguish between actual and manipulated content. The increasing use of such filters on platforms like Instagram and TikTok can distort a child’s perception of reality, leading to issues surrounding body image, misinformation, or attributing false statements to individuals.

Not only are children exposed to this content in their feeds, but they also have access to these technologies that are increasingly simple to use. They can produce manipulated images or videos, which, in the context of cyberbullying, for example, can exacerbate an already harmful situation.

Conversation starters for you and your child:

  • Have you ever come across a deepfake photo or video?
  • How can you tell if a photo or video is a deepfake?
  • Have you ever felt poorly about yourself after watching filtered content?
  • What can you do if you experience negative feelings when you are online?

ChatGPT and Generative AI

In AI, platforms such as ChatGPT are emerging as significant tools for learning and creativity. While these platforms can be used for tasks like essay writing, it’s essential to approach them with a balanced perspective and avoid a knee-jerk reaction or a blanket ban.

Rather than imposing bans on such tools, it’s more effective to focus on educating young users about their appropriate use because they’re not going away anytime soon. ChatGPT and similar AI platforms can be invaluable for simplifying complex concepts, sparking creative ideas, or providing explanations in easily understandable terms. However, it’s essential to emphasise that these tools are meant to assist learning and creativity, not replace original thought or effort. By guiding children in the responsible use of AI, we can empower them to harness these technologies for their educational growth and personal development.

Conversation starters for you and your child:

  • Have you used a generative AI tool, such as ChatGPT?
  • What are some ways in which generative AI can be useful?
  • Why do you need to be careful when using generative AI?
  • How can you use generative AI in a responsible way to support your learning and creativity?

AI For Good

Nevertheless, the realm of AI has its positive applications, particularly in the hands of the younger generation. These tech-savvy individuals are innovating with generative AI and natural language processing in various ways. They are leveraging these tools to gain deeper insights into complex areas like the stock market, aiding in informed trading decisions. Furthermore, AI is being used to explore potential career paths and streamline academic tasks, making organisation and planning more efficient.

While there is a lingering concern that such tools might be used inappropriately, such as for writing essays, the overarching trend is towards constructive and educational uses. This shift towards responsible and innovative use of AI highlights the potential of technology as a force for good, especially in the hands of the next generation.

Author: Caiti Galwey | Educator, Cyber Safety Project