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Culture Friday: Tech billionaires know social media is harmful


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Tech billionaires know social media is harmful

Plus, Alistair Begg’s comments on Christians attending un-Biblical marriage ceremonies

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with other social media platform heads on Capitol Hill to discuss child safety online. Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 2nd of February, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher

It’s time for Culture Friday, and joining us now is author and speaker Katie McCoy. Great to see you again! Good morning, Katie.

KATIE MCCOY: Hey, good morning, Nick and Myrna. Always good to be with you guys.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Wednesday in Washington social-media executives went up to Capitol Hill for a highly charged hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

You can barely get Americans to agree on whether they want six more weeks of winter or whether they want spring right around the corner. But Americans seem divided on just about everything except, perhaps, the influence of social media on children.

There is bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done to protect children from the harms of big-tech platforms. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate ranging from Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal to Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn have cooked up the most bipartisan of bills: The Kids Online Safety Act. It has 45 cosponsors, 23 Republicans, 22 Democrats.

So that was the atmosphere the tech executives stepped into.

But it was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who saw a shadow that of grieving parents seated directly behind him whose kids were harmed by social media.

Senator Josh Hawley was at his courtroom best, peppering Zuckerberg with questions and always one step ahead of him, asking who got fired at Facebook or Instagram for the demonstrated harms.

Zuckerberg managed: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about that.” Hawley: “Don’t think it’s appropriate? Do you know who’s sitting behind you? Have you compensated any of these people?”


HAWLEY: Have you compensated any of the victims? These girls. Have you compensated them?

ZUCKERBERG: I don’t believe so.

HAWLEY: Why not? Don’t you think they deserve some compensation for what your platform has done? Help with counseling services? Help with dealing with the issues that your services caused?

ZUCKERBERG: Our job is to make sure that we build tools …

HAWLEY: Are you going to compensate them?

Zuckerberg retreated to his stock answer: “We’re building industry-leading tools to keep our platforms safe. Hawley didn’t let up: “Have you ever said you’re sorry?”

HAWLEY: There’s families of victims here today, have you apologized to the victims? Would you like to do so now?

They're here, you’re on national television, would you like now to apologize to the victims who have been harmed by your product?

Show him the pictures.

Would you like to apologize for what you’ve done to these good people?

Zuckerberg turned around, stood, and apologized to the audience, saying no one should have to endure what they’ve experienced.

Katie, I know you were watching too. How significant a moment do you think we saw that day?

MCCOY: Very significant, especially for Gen Z and the way that social media has been affecting them in ways that we're just still beginning to learn. You know, there's a saying about social media that says, “If it's free, you're the product.” And this has been a huge experiment on an entire generation. I think wistfully of the days before Facebook, and it came out when I was in college, I can't imagine growing up with social media just being a part of life and how it affects and forms your mind, your sense of self, even your neural pathways. I mean, we could talk about this from so many other ways, even just attention span and how that has changed.

But you know, Nick, there's a lot that is kind of a confluence in this story. I think about how tech billionaires had limited screen time for their kids. They understood what this was doing. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I think about celebrities like Jennifer Garner, who said to her daughter, if you can find me one article that demonstrates that social media is good for you, then you'll be able to have it. And so you have these celebrities, very connected to culture, that are restricting their children to have access on social media, because of what they know that it's doing.

Our own Surgeon General last year, last spring, came out saying that there is a warning for parents on social media. Now he stopped short of drawing the correlation between social media use and this widespread gender confusion among Gen Z, especially how it is affecting teen girls. But time will tell in the form of policy changes.

Zuckerberg stopped short of saying that social media was directly to blame. He had a moment of compassion and empathy for these parents, but he still wasn't really owning the fact that these algorithms that they have created have led to not only an addiction among so many young people, but the incredible harm to their mental health.

MYRNA BROWN: So, where do we go from here Katie? Nick mentioned that bipartisan legislation. Is that the answer? More government? More legislation? Leave it with moms and dads? What do you say?

MCCOY: Well, that gets into even some bigger questions of the role of government versus the role of families and our society. Our government is designed for self-governance, of people to be connected to their churches and their families and have parents that are active in parenting them and parents that are monitoring social media use. So you know, the conservative in me tends to shy away from regulation. But at the same time, it seems like regulation happens when we don't have some of these other structures and relationships and safeguards in place.

I'll tell you this, I'm still amazed we have Tik-Tok. And that's not as a regulation of mental health, but my word what we're learning about just Tik-Tok's international security and all these other elements. So yeah, that's hard to predict. I do think we're going to find some legislation, but I wonder how much of that legislation would be necessary if we had a society that also emphasized strong families and involved parents.

BROWN: They certainly need our support. One last question about what we heard in that hearing. As you travel around the country speaking to groups, meeting moms and dads and their children, What are you hearing from them?

MCCOY: One of the most memorable stories came from a pastor's wife who described a couple in her church. These are both medical doctors, highly educated, highly intelligent people and they have done everything right by their children in giving them a strong biblical foundation, strong church experiences, except for this one thing.

These very educated, very intelligent parents gave their teenage daughter her smartphone without any limitation. So she was able to be on social media without any type of monitoring. And within a few months, she told her parents that she was trans and an atheist.

Someone is forming your child's sense of self, their worldview, their gender identity, their source of happiness and meaning. The only question is who, and parents have an incredible opportunity. They might think that in these teenage years that they are somehow obsolete and unwanted. Oh, no, your kids are still listening to you, you are still the primary formative influence in your child's worldview and sense of identity. And it's those relationships that have the greatest predictor of how your child will see those different messages that they encounter in social media and in the culture at large.

EICHER: Katie, here’s a tough one. Not the issue so much, not for me.

But I know you’ve heard about the esteemed pastor Alistair Begg who’s under fire for recommending on a podcast that a grandmother, who’d sought Begg’s advice, should attend a grandson’s wedding to a “transgender person.” He said she should. Adding, you should buy a gift.

Begg’s preaching program Truth for Life was pulled from the American Family Radio. It’s really blown up on social media, oddly enough.

Personally, Katie, I’m with my friend Rosaria Butterfield, who would argue Biblically the exact opposite of Pastor Begg. I love Alistair Begg and benefit from his ministry, so I hate this. But where do you come down on this?

MCCOY: You and I share a love for Pastor Alistair Begg. He is not only one of the best preachers, but he's been very formative in my own spiritual growth. And so I say everything that I might say here with great reverence. So there's a couple of passages that come to mind, as we're talking about this issue.

The first is Romans 14. And Romans 14 is kind of our go-to passage when we're talking about what do I do in a situation where I can't discern from the Bible explicitly what to do, but I'm trying to walk with a consistent and faithful witness. And Paul tells the Corinthian Christians who, by the way, lived in a morally decadent culture just like we do, that there are things that they're going to have to come to a place of personal conviction on. And these are questions that we have to think through searching scripture, asking the spirit for wisdom, and also doing that in community with other believers.

By the way, Nick, there's another passage that comes to mind with all of this just sort of as a background for all of it. And it's 1 Timothy 5:1, and it talks about not rebuking an older man, but encouraging him as you would a father. So I think, as we're talking about this controversy, this debate, to make sure we don't lose our Christian witness, as we're talking about how to be effective Christian witnesses.

So all of that is background to this: Scripture tells us that a wedding is a covenant. This is a covenant between two people and the Lord. When you come to a wedding, you are not just celebrating. You are a witness to this covenant. And our culture, in a place of no-fault divorce, and of course, gay marriage has diluted the meaning of what a wedding truly is. We don't get to define what a marriage is, because we don't get to define what this covenant is. The Lord gave it to us. And he gave it to us to display who he is.

We know that in Ephesians 5, when it talks about the marriage being a reflection of Christ and His Church, that's not just some type of poetic metaphor. This is something that speaks to the witness of God in creation, in physical creation, which is the external witness of the reality of God and then, in our moral conscience, the internal witness of the reality of God.

And so, as we're thinking through this question, I'll tell you where I would land on it is to advise that we should not participate in going to a gay wedding, because of the statement that it makes that we are giving a tacit approval to something that is a distortion of the covenant that God created. Now, please know I say with the utmost respect and reverence for Pastor Begg, and also recognizing that there are godly believers who disagree with my conclusion on that question.

BROWN: Katie McCoy is an author and speaker. Her most recent book is titled To Be a Woman: The Confusion Over Female Identity and How Christians Can Respond.

Thanks so much, Katie. Great to talk with you!

MCCOY: Great to talk to you all as well. Happy Friday.

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