In a new article from Deseret News, Brad Wilcox and Riley Peterson equate Big Tech to “Big Tobacco.” They argue that the online world has the same dangers and negative effects as other drugs, and go on to cite alarming mental health data to back up their claims. Similar to how smoking was found to be dangerous in the 1970s and yet poorly regulated by the government, Big Tech is harming kids today yet is met with little intervention or pushback.
They start with a powerful analogical anecdote, writing,
Imagine if a man in a white panel van pulled up in your neighborhood and began enticing teens to look at pictures and videos featuring drug use, pornography and a range of other antisocial activities. In many neighborhoods, he’d be in handcuffs within the hour. And yet, strangely enough, Mark Zuckerberg, Shou Zi Chew and Sundar Pichai do almost the same thing online at Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, where they have virtually unimpeded access to the neighborhood teens and manage to make billions of dollars poisoning their hearts and minds.”Brad Wilcox and Riley Peterson, Teens and tech: Why is Big Tech like Big Tobacco? | Opinion – Deseret News
The example puts the issue in starker perspective. If a person was intentionally trying to do this to your child, it would be a major cause for concern.
They go on to cite several statistics regarding the state of mental health among teens over the last decade. Depression in teen girls has “doubled” in the last decade, based on research from Jean Twenge. Another study discovered that teens who spend eight hours a day or more on screens report more depression than peers who spend less time engaging in online media. Eight hours a day adds up to 56 hours a week, while other projections have daily usage at ten hours. This means that teens spend more time on their phones than they do sleeping, interacting with friends and family, or any other activity we associate with teen life and development, like schoolwork and sports.
In response to those who naysay the negative data, they note,
While all social scientists know that ‘correlation does not equal causation,’ there is growing evidence that the negative impact of technology on teens is indeed causal. In fact, new studies of the rollout of broadband internet in Germany and Italy show the penetration of the internet into ordinary communities across these countries fueled emotional problems among the young, especially young women, providing the strongest evidence to date that it really is Big Tech, not something else, making us miserable.”
Wilcox and Peterson doubt that the federal government will act on the issue any time soon, and so call on state legislatures to take action. A few already have. Louisiana has passed a law that requires pornography sites to verify a user’s age. Utah is also taking steps to protect kids from Big Tech. Their legislation would require age verification, permission from parents, and the right to sue tech companies for financial damages if they don’t abide by the law.
The tide may be turning at long last. Every year, a slew of articles document the harm Big Tech has done to the population, particularly young people. Every year, it gets a few heads nodding in agreement, but so little is done about it. Researchers and policy influencers like Wilcox and Peterson keep pushing, however, until the truth is not only recognized but acted upon in substantive measures.
(A note to parents, youth pastors, or teachers who might read this: read the research from people like Wilcox and Peterson, Jonathan Haidt, Jean Twenge, and Tristan Harris and think about taking radical steps to limit or block children’s access to toxic apps like Instagram and TikTok.)