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Teaming up to defend kids from social media

The evidence of harm is undeniable, say parents, schools, and policy-makers

Teaming up to defend kids from social media

A school district in Tennessee is suing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media companies for damaging the mental health of students. Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools issued a statement saying teachers and administrators have seen a rise in mental illness, bullying, threats of violence, and other school disruptions because of social media.

“It is time for social media companies to be held accountable for the lack of monitors, controls, and cooperation to protect children and our society, and CMCSS appreciates the partnership with the Frantz Law group to do that,” the district said in a letter to parents.

Across the country, parents, schools, and legislators say they are tired of waiting for social media companies to self-regulate to protect children.

Most social sites such as Facebook and Youtube have users verify their age before creating an account. But the sites are unable to prove their users actually are as old as they say they are.

“[Tech companies believe] the way to solve tech problems is with more tech,” said Patrick T. Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He said that tech companies prefer to self-regulate. “It’s been getting worse. The government does need to step in.”

In April, members of the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that would restrict children’s access to social media. The bill, titled Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, serves to address parental concern over the mental health of their children because of social media.

“The growing evidence is clear,” lead sponsor Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a statement. “Social media is making kids more depressed and wreaking havoc on their mental health.”

If passed into law, the act would make social media sites require children 13 to 17 years old to get parental consent to make an account. Users or their guardians would have to verify their age with “government issued and other forms of identification.” It would also allow the user to choose what specific information they want to share with the sites and require the sites to delete all copies of the identification forms once they have verified the user’s age.

Parents could revoke their consent later if they wanted to. Children under 13 years old would not be allowed to make an account regardless of parental consent.

An even mix of Democratic and Republican senators introduced the bill. “The motivation is the same [for both sides],” Brown said. “The internet is the wild west, and the parties are on the eight ball.”

Brown said that some libertarians take issue with the legislation because they fear it will lead to government overreach. However, Brown said the issue has become a “failure in the market,” and that it is time for the government to regulate.

John Van Arnam, the executive director and founder of the nonprofit The Third Talk, says the internet prompts compulsive behaviors. The Third Talk specializes in preventing exposure to pornography by encouraging or initiating conversation between parents and their children.

Van Arnam frequently gives talks at schools, churches, and homes to create awareness of the harms of internet pornography on young people. He says parents get overwhelmed at the vastness of media’s effects in their childrens’ lives and they opt out, hoping everything works out OK.

Underscoring the severity of the problem, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on May 23 warning of the dangers of social media.

“Social media exposure can overstimulate the reward center in the brain and, when the stimulation becomes excessive, can trigger pathways comparable to addiction,” the advisory stated.

Murthy’s report also pointed out the roles of policy-makers, parents, tech companies, children, and researchers in preserving the mental health of young people. Van Arnam says this is a continuing conversation that requires “boots on the ground.”

“The advisory may have had good intentions, but it may be years and years before policies will be put in place to help this issue,” Van Arnam said. “The time to act is now.”

Charity Chaney

Charity Chaney is a student at Covenant College and the World Journalism Institute.

Gracen Fulmer

Gracen Fulmer is a graduate of Patrick Henry College and a student at the World Journalism Institute.

Thank you for your careful research and interesting presentations. —Clarke

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