Social networks distort our children

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The vandalism of school property is as old as students carving their initials on wooden desks, but recent incidents in the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District point to a more worrying development. A viral trend known as “Devious Licks” on the TikTok social media platform recently encouraged vandalism in school bathrooms and for authors to post their work on the video-sharing platform. . At least three UCISD campuses have been affected, with acts of vandalism and physical assaults on other students. The activity must be stopped cold.

Parents need to closely monitor their children’s social media use as a monthly “Devious Licks” series appears to be in the works. A North Texas school district, Irving ISD, warned parents that in October, students are encouraged to hit a staff member; the November challenge is for students to kiss their friend’s significant other; December, exhibit their private spaces; January, prick a breast; February, spoil the school signs; and so on until July.

Testimony last week in the US Senate by a former Facebook data scientist underscores the danger social media poses to all of us, but young people in particular. Frances Haugen told senators that Facebook harms children, sows division and undermines democracy in search of unbridled growth and huge profits.

Haugen disclosed a Facebook study (she obtained thousands of pages of corporate documents) which reported that 13.5% of teenage girls in a UK survey said their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after having joined Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Another study found that 17% of teenage girls said their eating disorders were heightened by Instagram. Facebook researchers also found that 32% of girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. Facebook maintains that the studies were taken out of context.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Said Facebook intentionally targeted children under 13 with an “addictive” product despite the app requiring users to be 13 or older.

Senator Richard Blumenthall, D-Conn., Responded that Facebook exploited teens with powerful algorithms that amplified their insecurities.

Ultimately, there was clear bipartisan support for controlling Facebook and other apps like TikTok, a consensus that is long overdue. Social media platforms have had a lot of leeway in determining what types of speech and actions are harmful, and they have failed miserably. They should be held to the same standards as other newscasters like newspapers, television and radio. Social media officials argue that we compare apples and oranges because their platforms are designed for the free exchange of opinions, rather than as a means of disseminating information. Truly? When asked in polls where they get their news, more than 50 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 report on social media or YouTube.

You can’t let garbage like “Devious Licks” go uncensored and expect more than bad results. And while parents have a vital role to play in their own policing work, it is up to lawmakers to hold social media companies accountable for the poison they are spreading. Sadly, reform will only happen when Facebook, Twitter and TikTok are constrained by fines and threats of prosecution – just like the mainstream media.


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