Fox News host Trey Gowdy highlighted alarming statistics about teenage girls and their struggles with mental health, including persistent sadness, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts on “Sunday Night in America”.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2011 to 2021 the number of teenage girls feeling sad or hopeless had increased from 36% to 57%, and 21% to 29% for teenage boys.
Gowdy claimed this is the “double-edged nature of technology,” which allows social media to be used for good or harm.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held the “Protecting Our Children Online” hearing on kids’ online safety. Both U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pledged to “act swiftly” to address “Big Tech’s ongoing harms to kids.”
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Emma Lembke, the founder of Log Off, a movement to encourage “healthy” use of social media, joined “Sunday Night in America” to discuss the harmful effects of social media on young people’s mental and physical health.
In describing her personal experience with social media, Lembke said, “At the age of 12, I downloaded my first social media account, Instagram, and as I began to spend more time on these apps, my mental and physical health suffered from the constant quantification of my worth through likes and comments and followers, my anxiety was heightened, my depression was deepened.”
Lembke said the “constant exposure to unrealistic body standards” led her towards “disordered eating and in a direction that was not great” for her mental and physical health.
Gowdy presented the facts that a 12-year-old cannot sign a contract, vote, buy tobacco or alcohol, nor see certain movies, so he asked Lembke why she thinks social media companies may think it’s “okay for a 12-year-old child to have access to all of their platforms when there are so many other things they cannot do?”
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“Well, the answer is easy. For these big tech platforms, the more eyeballs they have on the screen, the more profit they make,” Lembke said. “So what these companies are doing is, no matter the age, no matter how old the user is, they are going to try to maximize that attention, to maximize profit. When in reality, what it’s causing is this fueling of the youth mental health crisis that we face today. And frankly I think that, what we’re facing is the big tobacco of my generation, it’s social media. Unregulated social media has become this weapon of mass destruction for my generation.”
When pressed for solutions Lembke claimed she would “lean away from age verification” and focus on one fundamental question: “How is it that we make online spaces safer when kids decide to enter?”
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Lembke continued, “I think two things have to come into play. One, these companies need to be regulated to have safeguards, like the highest level of privacy by default built in to these platforms. And two, we need to see a greater algorithmic transparency, so we can begin to, as a society, build solutions that are effective based off of how young people are harmed. And what we need is that data and that is not something we have right now.”