“Our mission is to make beauty a source of confidence and not a source of anxiety and to make beauty accessible to everyone,” Manfredi said. “To do this, it is critical that we make social media a place that’s healthy, where harmful ideas are not perpetuated.”
Expanding Dove’s mission
While Dove’s longtime focus has been on unrealistic beauty stereotypes that undermine self-esteem, this campaign expands the mission to cover broader mental health issues, Manfredi said. Text in the video says social media is harming the mental health of three in five kids, which he said is based on research from Edelman. Eight out of 10 mental health experts also say social media is having a negative impact on mental health, he said, and half also say that it’s having an impact on eating disorders, he said.
The campaign behind the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is similar to Dove’s backing of Crown Act legislation against race-based hair-related discrimination, which has passed in 20 states and 14 municipalities in the U.S.
Both efforts further Dove’s longstanding Campaign for Real Beauty, Manfredi said, based on the idea that “if you want to create a lasting change, you cannot just create individual interventions, but you have to make a systemic change in society.”
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The Crown Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives in the last Congress, but not the Senate. KOSA, which already has had Senate hearings and has more bipartisan support, may have a stronger chance of passing at the federal level. Manfredi is hoping Dove’s campaign can provide momentum. The Dove Self-Esteem Project is working with groups that include Common Sense Media and ParentsTogetherAction to back the effort.
Bill sparks opposition
Online safety for kids may seem uncontroversial, but the bill is not. KOSA is opposed by a coalition called Fight for the Future, made up of librarian, civil liberties and LGBTQ+ groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and GLAAD. In a statement late last year the group said the broad filtering KOSA would deploy to limit minors’ access to online content is similar to filtering used by schools and libraries under the Children’s Internet Protection Act that has curtailed access to sex education and resources for LGBTQ+ youth.
“Online services would face substantial pressure to over-moderate, including from state attorneys general seeking to make political points about what kind of information is appropriate for young people,” according to a statement by the group.
“We all unequivocally believe in freedom of expression,” Manfredi said. “Social media are fantastic because they allow freedom of expression. But it’s the byproducts that are some of the safety issues.”
Manfredi made a comparison to body wash. “Body wash has many good things, but if it has an element of toxicity, we’d have to remove the toxicity in the same way you should look at social media.”
Using social media to reform social media
There is, of course, the irony that Dove’s campaign for social media reform will play out largely in paid and organic placements across social media platforms, including an April 11 event livestreamed on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.
“The reality of the world we live in is that social media is a place where people get their information today,” Manfredi said. “Social media can be a force for good. They can be fun. They can help creativity, and allow young people to express themselves and communicate even more with a community.”
Dove does try to avoid toxic content with its social media ad placements, Manfredi said. Avoiding ad support of other aspects, such as platform algorithms that keep people hooked on content by leading them down obsessive “rabbit holes,” may be trickier. But that’s also an area where the research and reporting requirements of KOSA could help Unilever and other advertisers be better informed about where to spend their money, he said.
“That’s definitely something that with the Kids Online Safety Act you could do much more clearly,” Manfredi said, for example, by requiring “social media to provide expert access to critical data for research. So third-party research would help avoid some of these issues.”
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CLARIFICATION: The title of the video is “The Cost of Beauty,” and it was livestreamed on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.