It’s been a Sunday morning staple for Kiwi kids for decades, but What Now may be facing new challenges in the era of social media.
New Zealand children’s show What Now has utilised many different ways of engaging with its young audience over the past 38 years. Whether it was getting kids to write in letters or putting them on air after a 20 minute chat to a teenage tele-op, What Now has always held its audience close and aimed for an interactive experience.
In more recent years, much of that interactivity has moved online, raising concerns around safety on social media and the impact that it may have on children’s mental health. Kat Waswo, a parent of two in Hamilton, told The Spinoff that she was “disappointed” to see the show encouraging their audience to use Instagram to enter competitions.
Waswo was watching What Now with her eight year-old son last month when the hosts began plugging House of Funge, an ongoing nationwide competition that kids could participate in the What Now Instagram account. “I don’t know who thought it was a good idea” said Waswo. “It all seemed a bit dubious to me considering you have to be much older to use Instagram.”
The terms and conditions of Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account.
“I get that they’re trying to build digital engagement,” said Waswo, “but I feel like they did not think about the negative implications that introducing kids to these platforms could have.” Instagram has been found to be the single worst social media app for mental health, with Waswo herself leaving six months ago after noticing how it was negatively affecting her.
“As good as it was for socialising, the unrealistic expectations, the filters and all the FOMO all became too much for me to handle,” she said. “I just have to wonder – if it affects me that much as a fully-grown adult, then I can’t imagine what it’s like for young kids. Parents are struggling as it is to keep their kids safe online without this added pressure.”
Whitebait Media, the producers of What Now, told The Spinoff that a lot of their audience is already on Instagram. “While we don’t actively encourage participation, it wouldn’t be helpful for us to turn a blind eye to where young people are spending their time,” a spokesperson said. Their account currently has over 18,000 followers, 50% of which are 18-34 and 20% of which are under 18.
Whitebait says they are committed to keeping their online spaces safe. “Our focus is on creating a safe platform for these people to join a two-way conversation,” a spokesperson said. “We create a positive, uplifting and supportive environment. We have zero tolerance for any anti-social behaviour… We take an active community curation role where we monitor activity and look to support everyone who’s participating.”
Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker said it is “not ideal” for What Now to be promoting the use of Instagram. “I sympathise with producers, they have to find a way to engage with their audiences online. But the reality is that if they are using Instagram to communicate with their audience, then they are directly encouraging kids to join.”
“The reality is that Instagram is a product for users 13 years and older and all of its safety and privacy settings are for people 13 years and older,” said Cocker. “It is not constructed to manage the risks of a younger child, so you really do want to avoid a younger child being on that platform.” Risks identified by Netsafe include everything from sharing private information through to meeting people who are predating on children.
Much of what happens on Instagram is invisible to parents and requires constant monitoring, says Cocker. “It is a social network so it puts people in connection with each other, but a lot of those interactions will be hidden.” Whitebait say that most interactions on the What Now Instagram are young people “reaching out and talking to the presenters,” and stress that they are careful to monitor for bullying and isolationist tactics.
“We have worked hard to ensure that we have clear processes and policies to refer or support these young people,” a spokesperson said.
Even with all those online safeguards in place, Waswo would like to see an institution like What Now lead the charge against the normalisation of the second screen. “I think its really important, if local producers want to keep engaging with our kids, that they should try harder to come up with something fun and exciting that doesn’t involve adding another digital screen.”
“Last time I checked, I’m pretty sure kids still like doing colouring-in competitions.”
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.