Youth Activists Outline Social Media Harms, Discuss Solutions with Sen. Blumenthal
On Thursday, Accountable Tech hosted a roundtable with five youth activists and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on social media’s impact on young people’s mental health, and the reforms necessary to build healthier digital experiences.
As momentum builds for new measures to protect kids and teens from online harms – including the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act recently introduced by Sen. Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and President Biden’s historic call to action at the State of the Union – the event elevated the voices of youth leaders who are too often left out of these conversations. Their powerful personal insights brought to life the challenges that young people face on social media platforms that have prioritized profits over their wellbeing.
The full event can be viewed here. Below is a sampling of highlights:
“I was never told that I was entering a space where addictive algorithms were at play, and that companies were prioritizing profit over their own products’ impact on my mental health…And then as a young female being in this very important developmental period in my life, I entered these apps and I was fed harmful content that specifically made me subscribe to unrealistic body standards. And that really perpetuated a deterioration of my own self image. And giving that to young females specifically, again, at this developmental period is incredibly harmful…We know that we’re not going to go back to a place where social media isn’t really integral to growing up. So how can we really amplify those benefits while mitigating those harms.”
— Emma Lembke, Co-Founder of the LOG OFF movement and Tech(nically) Politics
“The data is core to the business model. And we as young people don’t really—I think our generation doesn’t really have a grasp necessarily of how core it is…I think the vast majority of us recognize that there is a problem, but too many of us don’t know how to address that problem. And so, Senator, your bill will give tools to parents and kids which is really important. But we also need education on why it’s important to use those tools and how we can protect ourselves with those tools…I’m hoping that by all of us being here today and continuing to push our activism together going forward, we can kind of be the the conduits for education of our generation, and push forward legislation and policies that that put data at the front of it.”
— Zamaan Qureshi, Policy Advisor and Social Media Coordinator for the Real Facebook Oversight Board
“We brought together…a beta group of about 50 self-identifying youth activists onto our initial [non-profit social media] platform. And over the last year, and continuing now, we have conducted in-depth needs-finding with activists of all levels… to really get to the center of what is the root of their problem, and make sure our platform develops in a way that is addressing their core issues… I think something that has really struck deep with me throughout my time in this field, is the idea that if you cannot identify the product, you are the product. And user attention is monetized in a way that has no regard for our wellbeing on these platforms, because we are in fact, how they are making money. And I think that really gets to the root of the evil about big tech platforms.”
— Chloe Shrager, Co-founder and COO of Asmbl
“One of the scariest things for me personally and, I feel like the panelists will probably agree, is being very young and seeing public trust in democracy erode at a very large scale. It’s a horrifying, horrifying thing to see at the beginning of our lives and I think that [legislation] would really help with that. Considering we’ve been on these platforms the majority of our lives…it’s incredibly important to have our voices at the table. I feel like we have such a tactile understanding of the way that these platforms are being waged against us.”
— Sofia Ongele, Digital Strategy Coordinator for Gen-Z for Change
“Aside from just giving us [young people] a seat at the table, I feel like a huge barrier to entry in this issue advocacy area is that no one really knows how any of this works. So, Senator, I really appreciate the emphasis on opening the black box, and just putting the algorithm and all of these issues in layman’s terms, because only once we understand can we actually become active participants.”
— Giliann Karon, Digital Associate, Accountable Tech
“You know, each of you has been so eloquent. I am just in awe – and I say that, really from the heart – in awe of your ability to articulate what I have been struggling to say and convey about your experiences. And not only should you have a seat at the table, but you ought to be directing what we’re doing at the table because you are the experts… The self awareness and information that you have developed is just so powerful, and every one of you has similar kinds of insights that I think we ought to put before my colleagues.”
— Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)