Updated: Feb 14
This isn't backdoor authoritarianism, it's front door authoritarianism. I was at a drive thru listening to Wingman Wednesdays on Rod Arquette. When I heard something that made my stomach turn. Senator McKell, whom I have great affection for. To date he's the only elected official to make a meme of myself. All the effort I put forth mocking elected officials via digital images he's the only one to ever reciprocate. What McKell was on about was proposed legislation restricting social media to minors and the dangers it poses to children. Immediately I began to contemplate the outrageous absurdity of attempting to do such a thing. While the concerns are very real, the consequences of attempting to control the internet with legislation are far reaching while simultaneously exacerbating any problems it's claiming to address. First of all, what is a social media company? Why can't anyone under the age of 18 access it without parental consent and then only when 16? What could this possibly stop that's so bad that it wouldn't continue by other means? McKell was very upfront about no legislation being perfect and there would be unintended consequences as there is with most legislation. We have to ask what is a feature and what is a bug in this effort?
I was once 13 and I am also a parent. 13 year old me was very opinionated and followed politics and world affairs very closely. I have since toned down my political dialogue and fierce opinions toward public policy. The internet as we now know it was in its infancy. AOL discs were beginning to flood mailboxes and pushing this new conduit to our lives to every household in the country. It was amazing. I no longer had to time my life around what I could access via broadcast media. It was serious, there was a coup in Fiji all we heard about it in domestic broadcasts was Meg Ryan being inconvenienced in the filming of Proof of Life. I found out about it because I would listen to the BBC World Service over the radio and I would have to schedule my night in order to do that. Cable TV was sporadic, outside AM radio and trips to the local library were the best source of an information starved adolescent. Directed narratives from controlled sources were the norm. Anything outside the narratives had to be sought after through the mail or scheduling your lunch hour to catch a snippet of Rush Limbaugh. That changed when I could hear the crackling noise of a 56k modem dialing up and 60+ seconds loading a page. I could access as many narratives as I wanted while discovering more. Today everything is on social media, the based commentator challenging the predatorial teacher pushing radical queer theory, that's found on youtube and that's where adolescents can find the antidote to the leftist extremism pushed by the state and the teacher unions. How to change a tire (a valuable life skill) that's on youtube too. Locked in quarantine? You can socialize with your peers and friends via instagram posts and whatsapp messages. Communist teacher working to destroy any decency by attacking your religious beliefs, your upbringing, your family? You can make them famous. What's that a newspaper article framing Trump as Hitler. You can comment on how it belittles victims of the Holocaust and expose the media outlet for who they are. Curious about how to fix your broken cell phone here's a group of professionals trading tips and tricks. Watching the local bully beat a smaller kid to pulp as the grownups in the classroom do nothing? You can show just how dangerous public schools really are in very human way. Want to see a feed of your favorite band, commentator, and professional interest? Too bad. This effort doesn't protect adolescents; it infantilizes and insults them. Without social media information and worldviews are monopolized through broadcast media, the radical teacher unions, and whatever media purveyor can put on a paid streaming service (as long as that streaming service doesn't have the capability for comments and uploading that would constitute a social media platform) Guarding the worldview during the teen years is what happens in totalitarian dictatorships. Limiting resources and input that would enable teens to become successful adults.
This effort exacerbates the problem. What about the terrible things that come with social media use? Don't those need to be stopped? Can't we prevent teens from predatory behaviors, embarrassing photos being sent, device addiction, general idiots pushing dumb things? The problems put forth about social media by these proponents are probably a lot worse than anyone could imagine. If we could wave a magic wand and block teens from accessing, posting, commenting, on any major platform that has more than 10 million users these issues wouldn't go away. Smaller sites would popup more local chats, more things that would be obscured from the worldview of responsible adults. People and entities running these sites won't have anyone's best interest in mind, especially the youth. If you think Zuckerburg is bad, wait until you find out what the dark web admins are like. They don't care. Adults in teens' lives won't see them. Teens will post, will share, will work around any efforts of any government entity to stop them. Any random group of 15 year olds is more tech savvy than any well intentioned legislator. This effort can't beat the internet. The difference between what we have now and we could have if this is successful is visibility. The naughty photos won't be taken down, they'll be required to get in. The ads for clothes and concerts will be replaced with dark web operators selling fentanyl and promising secret parties. The efforts to stop teens accessing social media will make them proficient in accessing dark web sites and other unscrupulous content. The phone addiction and the depressed teen will be made worse with less visibility. The disturbed person who might be planning something bad and is calice enough to post their intentions.. Would someone have been tipped off if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been posting on social media? We don't know, but we do know this removes it from the equation. We have seen this happen over and over with well intentioned efforts. Remember efforts to stop video game violence. Grand Theft Auto V is the highest grossing game of all time, it has the worst of everything anyone looking to stop violent video games and it's played by millions of teens. Mia Love makes personal ads in Craigslist illegal to fight human trafficking, enter Tinder, Grindr and every other unscrupulous app. Human trafficking of underage children is at an all time high. Especially since Gavin Newsom made street walking legal with a direct pipeline of illegal alien children coming from the border (but hey Mia the orange man is bad) and drug addicts with internet sourced opiates. Whatever anyone could possibly imagine that's happening with social media that hurting young adults will be made exponentially worse by driving digital natives to other means. The dutiful parents watching their child's everymove might prevent the worst of it, but vulnerable teens from single parent households will get the brunt of the worst people moving them into further compromised life situations. When McKell is referencing unintended consequences I don't see anyone even beginning to articulate those.
Is it bug or is it a feature? We need to question the intent behind any legislation. There has been a two way war on social media since November of 2016. General Michael Flynn gave a speech at the Young Americans Foundation detailing what he called "an insurgency, irregular warfare at its finest" where he discussed digital soldiers taking on the MSM. I commend and salute Senator Dan McKay on his trigger bill for stopping abortions in Utah. It may have only been theater and a hypothetical had not Donald Trump ascended the presidency. In the speech General Flynn recognizes Milo Yiannopoulos for his effectiveness combating academic and MSM narratives. Milo pointed out that the supreme court was in play and while Utah's GOP establishment was working hard to help Hillary Clinton deny Utah's electoral votes by pushing McMuffin in 2016. Many of the attendees in General Flynn's speech were in junior high when Obama was elected. Had these same teens been prohibited from accessing political dissent on social media we wouldn't have a pro life supreme court today. Milo called this out in 2016, his zany and unconventional was effective at entertaining and informing. Millions watched Milo even as he was being labeled a white supremacist, nazi, bigot etc... The labels weren't sticking very well as people could go directly for that source for what they thought about Milo. Many liked what they heard enough that a powerful undercurrent of people joined in elected Donald Trump. Leftists were defenseless for this new wave of information warfare. They had built their entire apparatus on suppressing AM radio and indoctrinating children. Devices were deployed to suppress political dissent. Shadow banning, cancel culture, fake fact checkers, all to counter anything other than a conventional narrative promoted by leftists. Nevertheless the most effective counter to the bogus and disingenuous print and broadcast media is still social media. Alibis like Titania McGrath and Capre Dinktom still mock push a different worldview. Yet this effort only seeks to prevent 16 and under from accessing social media? How exactly can that happen? A modal like you see on firearm sites verifying someone is 16 and has parental consent? That's not going to work. A verification by someone presenting their government ID? I'm not interested in accessing any social media site, where I can be targeted by the administrative state, where I have to present a Government ID. This will log who is saying what about who. Why would someone want to do that? It's an authoritarian position that can't be reconciled with free society. One being pushed by an establishment that hates a certain grassroots political movement (MAGA). This has less to do with the mental health of teenagers and more to do with Orange Man bad. Don't believe me, look who else is calling for this legislation nationwide. It's a barrier to entry to further suppress political dissent and empower an elite group to control the Overton Window. This is a feature not a bug.
What is to be done about teen mental health and the other bad things that happen when social media is available to such an impressionable group. First I would look beyond social media as being the culprit. Violence and disheartening model of public schools monopolized by Marxist teacher unions every day. The prison-like environment forms creepy social cliques that often lead to disturbing behavior. Academic performance being made harder by woke ideology and depressing required reading. It's like required reading in public schools is a contest to show how futile life can be. That was my takeaway from reading "The Old Man and the Sea" and "The Pearl". Maybe cutting them off for COVID lockdowns from their friends with no means of contact except social media didn't help either. Restructure education to provide encouragement for teens instead of promoting nihilistic victimhood as currency. Replace the depressing narratives with Haratio Alger. The number of K12 students completing AP Computer Science is embarrassingly low in Utah focus on that. Keep teens digitally engaged by hosting app fairs and other extra curriculars. The efforts on school choice will do more to help teen mental health than any restriction on social media. If you really wanted to help teens on social media educate them about life altering decisions, like embarrassing photos, inappropriate relationships, tattoos, and irreversible sex changes. Education exists to help teens with social media but it's more geared toward countering MAGA influence by going to fake fact checkers for more bogus narratives. Promote and find ways to limit screen time on these apps, still being able to access them in good measure. This would prevent them from pursuing unrestricted access in the dark web as it keeps teens on mainstream social media where it can be seen. Parents and developers can pursue a myriad of options to limit screen time on apps that might foster addictive behavior.
Overall I can't emphasize what this effort is and how counterproductive it can become. It hurts our youth both infantilizing them and promoting a culture of secrecy around online activity. Mental health and society will be hurt by the proposed measures. The ham fisted approach is brazen in its efforts to control the internet. I would encourage anyone contemplating these measures to unequivocally and publicly reject them. This isn't a backdoor authoritarian measure, it's a front door authoritarian measure.