from the good-look-with-that dept
Utah, as a state, has a pretty long history of having terrible policy proposals regarding laws about the internet. And now it’s getting dumber. On Monday, the state’s Attorney General Sean Reyes and Governor Spencer Cox, hosted a very weird press conference. It was billed by them as an announcement about how Utah is suing all the social media companies for not “protecting kids.” Which is already pretty ridiculous. Even more ridiculous, is that Governor Cox’s audience eagerly announced that people should watch the livestream… on social media.
Even more ridiculous: I kept expecting them to announce the details of the actual lawsuit, but it turns out that they haven’t even hired lawyers, let alone planned out the lawsuit. The official announcement notes that they’re putting out a request for proposal to find the most ridiculous law firm possible to file the suit.
Specifics of any legal action are not being released at this time. A Request for Proposal (RFP) document will be submitted this week to prepare for hiring outside counsel to assist with any litigation that could soon occur.
Can I reply to the RFP with a document that just says: “this is not how any of this works, and it makes Utah look like a clueless, anti-tech, anti-innovation backwater?” Cox has actually been surprisingly good on internet issues in the past, and seemed like he understood this stuff, but this kind of nonsense grandstanding makes him look really bad.
Again, the actual evidence regarding social media and children is at best inconclusive, and more likely shows that most kids actually get real value out of it as a way to keep in touch with more people, and get more access to valuable, useful information and people. A big look at basically all of the research on the “harm” of social media on kids found… no evidence to support the narrative.
And looking at the actual research we see the same thing again and again. Oxford did a massive study, looking at over 12,000 kids, and found that social media had effectively zero impact on the health and well being of children. A few years ago, a study (again, looking at multiple studies) noted that the emerging consensus view was that social media didn’t harm kids.
Just recently, we covered a pretty massive Pew Research Center study that surveyed over 1,300 teenagers, and found that, not only was social media not causing harm, it appeared to be providing real value to many of them.
And, whether or not you trust Facebook’s own internal research, the leaked research that the company did on whether or not Facebook and Instagram made kids feel worse about themselves, found that on nearly all issues, it actually made them feel better about themselves:
So, just starting out, the entire premise of this lawsuit seems to be on a moral panic myth that is not supported by any actual evidence, which seems like a pretty dumb reason to file a lawsuit.
The reasons given in the announcement in Utah are the usual moral panic list of things that basically all teenagers face, and faced before the internet existed as well:
“Depression, eating disorders, suicide ideation, cutting, addictions, mass violence, cyberbullying, and other dangers among young people may be initiated or amplified by negative influences and traumatic experiences online through social media.
Except, it’s one thing to say that people using social media experience these things, because basically everyone is on social media these days. The real question is whether or not social media is somehow causing these things, and again, pretty much all of the actual studies say the answer is “no.” And, expecting anyone to be able to sort out which harms are caused by social media, let alone in a way that has legal liability, is ridiculous.
Also, many of these topics are way more complex than the simple analyses cover. We’ve talked before about the studies on eating disorders, for example. Multiple studies have shown that when social media tried to crack down on online discussions about eating disorders it actually made the problem worse, not better. That’s because the eating disorders aren’t caused by social media. The kids are dealing with them no matter what. So when the content is banned, kids find ways around the bans. They always do. And, in doing so, it made it more difficult for others to monitor those discussions, and it often destroyed more open communities where people were helping those who had eating disorders get the help they needed. So demands that websites “crack down” on such content are actually making things worse, and doing more harm to the kids than the websites were doing in the first place.
There’s evidence to suggest the same is true of suicide discussions as well.
All that is to say, this is complicated stuff, and a bunch of grandstanding politicians ignoring what the actual research says in order to generate misleading headlines for themselves are not helping. At all.
And that’s not even getting into what any possible lawsuit could claim. What legal violation is there here? The answer is that there’s none. It doesn’t mean that AG Reyes can’t hassle and annoy companies. But, there’s no actual legal, factual, or moral reason to do any of this. There are only bad reasons, based around Reyes and Cox wanting headlines playing off the moral panics of today.
Filed Under: for the children, lawsuits, protect the children, sean reyes, social media, spencer cox, studies, utah
Source : https://www.techdirt.com/2023/01/25/utah-promises-that-its-going-to-sue-social-media-for-being-bad-for-kids/