Re: “Protecting kids on social media — Texas House’s proposed age limit is a step forward,” Thursday editorial.
While some connect social media use with teen depression and suicides, evidence is unclear. The Economist noted, “If social media were the sole or main cause of rising levels of suicide or self-harm — rather than just one part of a complex problem — country-level data would probably show signs of their effect.” They don’t.
Underlying causes of depression and suicide are often much deeper for teens, best addressed by parents, yet some want to give it to government bureaucrats. The latest attempt is Texas House Bill 18, supported by your editorial board.
The bill would essentially ban teens from social media and force all to register online. It excludes YouTube by picking it as a winner with an educational provision.
Though well-intended, the bill would have many costly unintended consequences. Teens could lose benefits from connecting with family and friends and learning new things, have less information in a growing digital world and possibly choose less-desired activities.
Everyone registering for digital services reduces privacy and security. Texas should empower parents to decide for their kids — many of us may choose to keep our kids offline — not government bureaucrats.
Vance Ginn, Round Rock
Originally published at the Dallas Morning News.
The mental health of preteens and teenagers across America has been a growing concern as suicide remains the third highest cause of their deaths. The causes of suicide are largely unknown and complex.
Some point to the decline of the family structure, with fewer two-parent households, more parents working full-time, and subsequently more kids spending less time with family. Others tie the cause to fewer Americans actively practicing religion and raising their children to lean on their faith in times of stress and uncertainty.
And then there are those who blame social media and other interactive digital services, where minors are increasingly spending their time.
Whichever cause is contributing to the problem of suicides by teens is a serious one, worthy of research and solutions.
A growing number of state lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at curbing the use of social media and other interactive digital services by minors. Those bills often require age verification, nullify online contracts entered into between minors and companies offering those services, establish curfews when minors are prohibited from using them, and authorize private rights of action where individuals can sue companies and be awarded damages.
But it has not been established that social media – this thing that youth have quickly embraced and mastered, but many older adults don’t like or are still trying to figure out – is indeed the biggest problem. If it is, then which specific aspects or activities are most problematic and how can they be isolated to address them?
Instead of getting to the root causes, those who suspect it’s bad or believe that it’s at least a contributor to mental health challenges are throwing the kitchen sink at it, seemingly overlooking the practical implications of increased regulation and the dangers of inviting government to co-parent.
Take, for example, age verification requirements.
Proponents say these requirements exist only for minors, but in order to prove that one isn’t a minor, all users must provide their personal information to the social media company or its third-party provider, which matches the information against official government records. It’s not like a person attempting to buy beer or cigarettes at the grocery store, where a cashier must “card” those who appear to be underage.
When accessing the Internet on a computer, cell phone, or other electronic device, the only way for a person to prove that he or she isn’t a minor is to go through the entire age verification process…for every single program or service he or she uses. And this would apply to every user in the state.
Some argue that the risks to minors justify these burdensome new requirements, but when adults suddenly begin having to provide their personal information to access multiple online programs they’ve used for years (and not knowing where that personal information will be stored, how will it be used, whether it will be shared, and more) and then find out why, expect lots of angry phone calls to lawmakers’ offices.
This brings up a number of other questions that should be answered.
Whose job is it to monitor and, if necessary, restrict minors’ access to technology in the first place? Is it the role of government to set curfews or establish limitations for the activities of minors in the home and/or while under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian?
Should parents, schools, or others bear the responsibility of educating minors about the appropriate uses of technology, the Internet, and social media? Is enough being done to establish healthy behavior patterns and warn against the dangers of overuse, bullying, inappropriate contact, and engaging with strangers? If not, shouldn’t we start there before introducing government restrictions?
Also, could overregulation by the government lead to unintended consequences such as kids losing access to educational and other positive materials? Could it lead to them being denied the opportunity to connect and socialize with peers, family members, and others around the world who their parents know and trust, all because the government makes giving them access so burdensome?
Is government really prepared to restrict citizens’ access to one of the greatest innovations, sources of knowledge, and enablers of human interaction made available in our lifetime?
And for social media programs and interactive digital services offered across the globe, how will companies comply with potentially dozens of rules and regulations that differ from state to state? Is that even possible, and should the rules differ for Louisianans than for people living in Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi?
Rather than throwing the kitchen sink at it with bigger government, let’s be thoughtful about the best ways to address the needs of young people and their families while ensuring that solutions will actually work, are workable, and don’t trade individual liberties for more government. We’ve tried that too many times before, and the results aren’t good.
Originally published with Erin Bendily, Ph.D., at Pelican Institute for Public Policy.
In today's episode of "This Week's Economy," I discuss the latest GDP report, the House Republicans passing a new debt ceiling bill, School Choice, state budgets, social media bans, and more.
Thank you for listening to the 6th episode of "This Week's Economy,” where I briefly share my insights every Friday morning on key economic and policy news at the U.S. and state levels.
Today, I cover:
1) National: Findings from the latest GDP report released yesterday (April 27th) and the debt ceiling bill passed by House Republicans;
2) States: Updates on Universal School Choice and budgets across states, especially Texas and Louisiana; and
3) Other: Bills circulating on restricting social media, and more.
You can watch this episode on YouTube or listen to it on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, or Anchor (please share, subscribe, like, and leave a 5-star rating).
For show notes, thoughtful economic insights, media interviews, speeches, blog posts, research, and more at my Substack directly in your inbox.
There's a lot of talk about the harms of social media on teens. Notable experts on both sides of the issue struggle to reach consensus. But state lawmakers are moving ahead with legislation to ban teens from social media.
The issue is, even if we assume the worst, a ban is a short-term fix to a potentially longer-term problem. Worse, it will likely do more to avoid dealing with teens’ underlying problems by taking control away from parents. And it could shortchange teens of many benefits online for education, networking, and more.
If these issues are truly due to social media, when teens turn 18 and become “legal adults,” the issues will continue. The only difference a ban will make is that when teens become adults, and move away to start their lives, they won't have their parents to guide them online. They’ll have missed out on the opportunity to have productive discussions about safe practices with their parents.
Despite what legislators are claiming, bans aren’t a pro-parent approach. Legislation to ban minors from social media gives the government (politicians and bureaucrats) the power to decide what’s best for children. And as usual, it's set to do a poor job of it.
Earlier this year, Utah became the first state to ban teens from social media.
The pair of bills ban teens under 16 completely and impose heavy-handed restrictions for sites allowing teens 16 to 18. Those restrictions include state-mandated curfews, intrusive age verification, punitive fines on companies with sites subjectively considered to be too appealing, and a presumption that any harm a child experiences is the result of social media. Parental consent is required for teens 16 to 18 to create an account, but that’s the end of a parent’s input into what they want for their teen.
Now Texas, Arkansas, and other states are following suit.
While legislators praise these bills as a solution to the mental health crisis facing teens, these provisions don’t address the underlying problems from many factors. Adding to the debate about whether social media is a significant cause of depression, experts are also grappling with how to reduce cyberbullying, curb exploitation, and protect teens from predators online.
State efforts have done more to gloss over the problems teens are facing in the name of parental choice, missing opportunities to address specific issues and avoiding the unintended consequences of such actions. What’s more, the specifics in these bills, like state-imposed curfews and civil penalties, constitute a draconian approach that removes parents from choosing what’s best for their kids.
Rather than banning teens from engaging in our connected world, we should separate the concerns into actionable items. Experts, stakeholders and parents alike should be given time to propose solutions with meaningful input that prepare teens to safely and responsibly enter the technology-integrated world.
The hard part, of course, is reaching a consensus.
To some, that’s why an all-out ban on allowing teens on the Internet would do the trick. But that would ignore the reality that teens will one day become adults and find themselves unequipped to contend with an online world, less productive, and more at risk of the concerns given for bans. It also takes the power out of the hands of parents, who are the ones best positioned to find what’s best for their kids, and puts it in the hands of bureaucrats.
Government meddling in the parent-child relationship rarely works well, and there’s little reason to believe this time will be different. That goes for Utah, Texas, Arkansas, and any other state that tries to help kids by disempowering parents.
If the warning signs are true, and social media is creating all the harm talked about in the news, we can’t simply ban the problems away. We’ll need to address them head-on with solutions that balance liberty, free speech, privacy, and parenting. Without these, we will fail to set up the next generation for offline and online success.
Originally published at The Center Square.
Let People Prosper Show--TECH FREEDOM: "Big Tech" & Monopoly, Antitrust by FTC, & Network Effects w Dr. Max Gulker | Ep. 40
In Let People Prosper episode #40, I talk with Max Gulker, Ph.D., about whether Big Tech is a monopoly, FTC's overreach with regulations, & benefits of network effects to let people prosper.
On today's episode of the "Let People Prosper" show, which was recorded on March 21, 2023, I'm thankful to be joined by Dr. Max Gulker, Senior Policy Analyst at Reason Foundation.
Dr. Gulker’s bio and other info (here):
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.