of good-look-with-it department

Utah as a state has quite a long history of having terrible policy proposals regarding Internet laws. And now it gets dumber. On Monday, State Attorney General Sean Reyes and Governor Spencer Cox held a very bizarre press conference. This was presented by them as an announcement about how Utah is suing all social media companies for not “protecting children”. Which is already pretty ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is that Governor Cox’s audience eagerly announced that people should watch the live stream…on social media.

Join us live at 9 a.m. for a social media press conference in Utah.  The live stream will be available via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Even more ridiculous: I expected them to announce the details of the lawsuit, but it turns out that they didn’t even hire lawyers, let alone planned the trial. The official announcement notes that they are issuing a request for proposal to find the most ridiculous law firm possible to file the complaint.

Details 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 the hiring of outside counsel to assist with any litigation that may soon arise.

Can I respond to the RFP with a document that simply says, “that’s not how it all works, and it makes Utah look like a clueless, anti-tech, anti-innovation backwater ?” Cox has actually been surprisingly good at internet issues in the past, and seemed to understand this stuff, but this kind of nonsensical demagoguery really makes him look bad.

Again, the real evidence regarding social media and children is the best inconclusive, and more likely shows that most children derive real value from it as a way to keep in touch with more people and have better access to valuable and useful information and people. A close look at the essentials all research on the ‘damage’ of social media to children has found… no evidence to support the narrative.

And looking at actual research, we see the same thing over and over again. Oxford did a massive study, involving over 12,000 children, and found that social media indeed had no impact on children’s health and well-being. A study a few years ago (again, looking at multiple studies) noted that the emerging consensus view was that social media does no harm to children.

Just recently we covered a pretty massive study from the Pew Research Center that surveyed over 1,300 teens and found that not only was social media not causing harm, but it seemed to bring real value to a lot of people. between them.

And whether or not you trust Facebook’s own internal research, the company’s leaked research into whether Facebook and Instagram made children feel bad about themselves found that on almost every issue, it made them feel better about themselves:

So in its infancy, the whole premise of this lawsuit seems to be based on a myth of moral panic that isn’t supported by any real evidence, which seems like a pretty dumb reason to sue.

The reasons given in the Utah ad are the usual moral panic list of things that virtually all teenagers face, and also faced before the internet existed:

“Depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, cuts, addictions, mass violence, cyberbullying and other dangers in young people can be initiated or amplified by negative influences and traumatic experiences in online via social media.

Except it’s one thing to say that people who use social media experience these things, because basically everyone is on social media these days. The real question is whether social media somehow caused these things, and again, just about every real study says the answer is “no”. And, expect anyone to be able to determine what damage is being done through social media, let alone in a way that engages legal liability, is ridiculous.

Also, many of these topics are much more complex than the simple analyzes cover. We have already talked about studies on eating disorders, for example. Many studies have shown that when social media tried to suppress online discussions of eating disorders, it actually made the problem worse, not better. That’s because eating disorders aren’t caused by social media. The kids take care of it no matter what. So when content is banned, kids find ways around the bans. They always do. And in doing so, it made it harder for others to monitor those discussions, and it often destroyed more open communities where people helped those with eating disorders get the help they needed. So, demands that websites “suppress” this content actually make matters worse and hurt children more than the websites did in the first place.

There is evidence to suggest the same is true for discussions of suicide.

All that to say, it’s a complicated thing, and a bunch of grandiose politicians ignoring what the real research says in order to generate misleading headlines for themselves doesn’t help. At all.

And that does not even enter into what a possible lawsuit could claim. What legal violation is there here? The answer is that there is none. That doesn’t mean AG Reyes can’t annoy and annoy businesses. But, there is no legal, factual or moral reason to do anything. There are only bad reasons, based on the fact that Reyes and Cox want the headlines to play on today’s moral panics.

Filed Under: for the kids, lawsuit, protect the kids, sean reyes, social media, spencer cox, studies, utah

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