On Tuesday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mod.) has proposed new legislation that would ban young people from using social media His bill, stylized as the “Making Edge Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective” (Maturity) Act, is highly and patently flawed, because becauseAs Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted yesterday.
The MATURE Act requires sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to verify that users are at least 16 years old. This verification process would force social media platforms to scan users’ driver’s licenses or other forms of government-issued identification, thus requiring a staggering amount of data collection on the part of companies. Enemies of Big Tech who are rightly concerned about online privacy in the modern age should consider how such proposals would greatly exacerbate that problem.
Indeed, this law would create many problems that the techno-skeptic right would have to consider. Do conservatives realize how stunning and sweeping a change it would be to suddenly deny millions of children and teenagers access to basic and popular areas of the Internet? This is a radical proposal that will profoundly deny children access to information and socialization. Youngsters get their news from YouTube and TikTok. They use the direct messaging functions of Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to keep in touch with their friends. Facebook became less popular with Gen Z; Despite this, millions of children between the ages of 13 and 16 are currently using the platform It would be incredibly naive to think that they get no value for these services.
Hawley’s law exempts social media sites from age verification current Users, which makes some sense, though can easily create a situation where some young people still have access to a platform even though many of their peers do not. In practice, children and teenagers will obviously find ways to verify age; One kind thing that can be said about adult law is that it may not be very effective.
but aim This legislation is indeed worth some scrutiny, including from Republicans. After all, what’s conservative about suddenly blocking millions of children’s access to the Internet? Don’t conservatives realize how much teenagers’ identities are tied to their social media presence—where their peer networks reside and where their self-expression is enacted?
Elon Musk has called Twitter a digital town square, and Republicans seem to agree, which is why they’re suddenly favoring a version of anti-discrimination legislation aimed at banning social media companies. Does it really make sense that 15-year-olds can’t enter town squares? Are we so sure that teenagers who are months away from applying to college and logging on to Facebook can’t be trusted to avoid making decisions that will affect their financial and professional prospects for decades?
Foes of social media say it’s harming youth and point to rising rates of depression among teenage girls as a consequence. It is undoubtedly true that some excessive social media use among some teenage users is unhealthy, although evidence of causal harm by so-called Facebook whistleblowers has been greatly exaggerated. But even if one admits that spending too much time on Instagram is a bad thing for some teenage girls, it doesn’t follow that millions of young people are being deprived. any Access to social media can be a boon for teen mental health. Conversely, suddenly flipping the Internet off-switch would be a great way to make many kids sad.
We have, in fact, already run this experiment and that was recently. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments have imposed extensive restrictions on youth. They closed schools and delayed or even dropped extracurricular activities. The most normal and healthy activity for children – hanging out with friends, in private – was stigmatized. But for the kids who found themselves in this soul-crushing reality, social media was an essential alleviator of loneliness. as becauseAs David McGarry points out in a recent article, research shows that youth who were virtually connected to each other during the pandemic had better mental health outcomes than their peers.
It is incredibly reckless to cut off what has been an incredibly important lifeline for lonely young people because not all outcomes and usage patterns are ideal. COVID-19 and the US government have brought the lives of children and adolescents to a standstill; The Hawleys of the world seem to be Try without internet.
Parents should feel empowered to make their own choices about what levels of social media use are appropriate for their individual children. The MATURE Act substitutes their judgment for that of the federal government. This is as antithetical to parental rights as any law proposed by Democrats.