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Social Media is “one of the worst things that ever happened to our society”

Social Media is “one of the worst things that ever happened to our society”

My appearance on Education First NC podcast hosted by Sloan Rachmuth, regarding holding social media companies liable for designing manipulative platforms that are deceptively addictive, using mass tort products liability legal approaches: “TikTok seems like the crack cocaine of the internet.”

We interrupt the insane political news cycle for some even more depressing news: Social media is destroying us, particularly the youth.

There are multiple lawsuits against social media big tech companies for designing manipulative platforms that are deceptively addictive. Using mass tort products liability legal approaches developed against tobacco, a lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of school districts is working its way through federal court in California.

Now there is a suit in North Carolina, which was the impetus for my appearance on the Education First NC podcast hosted by Sloan Rachmuth. I’ve interacted with Sloan for many years, she is a tireless fighter for parents rights and protecting children from all forms of malicious ideology that have been injected into K-12.

Here is Sloan’s write up of the podcast appearance:

North Carolina’s second-largest school system is suing social media companies for harming students’ mental health.

In a statement last Friday, the attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board said social media companies like Meta, Snapchat, and TikTok intentionally design their platforms to get young users addicted and exploit their developing minds for profit. The litigation seeks to force companies to fully address platform harms.

On last night’s podcast, EFA invited Cornell law professor Bill Jacobson to provide insights into these lawsuits. He highlighted the complexities involved in establishing causation and liability.

Professor Jacobson and EFA president Sloan Rachmuth discussed comparisons between social media lawsuits and vape lawsuits.

While tobacco products are inherently damaging, social media affects individuals differently. He notes that the lawsuits are speculative and the courts will have to determine the validity of the claims.

These lawsuits are similar to class action suits alleging defective products, and one of the challenges is quantifying social media damages. For instance, in the case of vaping, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the product caused nicotine addiction, thus leading to economic and medical costs that should be compensated.

Rachmuth raised the concern about blaming social media for Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s school’s shortcomings and suggested that the lawsuit may be a way to shift blame. Jacobson acknowledges this and suggests that the lawsuit defense may involve addressing these factors.

Partial Transcript (auto-generated, may contain transcription errors; sorry, no time stamps)

Sloan: Well, it reminds me of the vaping, the anti vaping lawsuits that were taken on by attorneys general across the country. North Carolina was chief among them, where, you know, a big settlement was reached and, you know, the, the money I guess went to causes like stopping tobacco, et cetera. And so what’s the difference, if any, between a product that’s like an actual product that can be linked to causation, for instance, and a product as diffuse as social media?

WAJ: I think that’s a great distinction that the courts are going to  have to grapple with. I did check in on the California case and there has been a motion to dismiss filed that does not look from the docket like it’s been decided yet. And there’s of course a lot of parties in that case, and the court’s going have to decide, is social media the equivalent of vaping products, the vaping cases? There was an allegation that it’s inherently damaging that it will damage your lungs and maybe cause other physical damage. And that’s similar to the tobacco cases. The tobacco cases were groundbreaking, but we know medically, we know scientifically that a certain percentage of the people who smoke tobacco are going to get cancer whether they get it this year or they get it 20 years from now. So that medical science is there. I don’t know if it’s there for the social media, I just don’t know. And but this is something the courts are going to have to grapple with, is social media the functional equivalent of tobacco?

* * *

The issue in social media is going to be, there’s a lot of intervening factors. With tobacco, you can make the direct causation between your cancer and the smoking of tobacco, maybe vaping too, whatever the physiological problems are. Here, you’ve got so many complex problems that there’s social media, there’s social peer pressure, there’s parental pressure, or parental inattention. There’s so many things that can influence the impact that going on Facebook has on you that it’s much more diffuse than tobacco. You know, tobacco, they can study, a certain number of people will get lung cancer, a certain number of people will get other cancers. So I think that’s another thing that’s going to make these more difficult. That doesn’t mean they’re impossible, but the courts are going to have to grapple with whether an internet product basically is the equivalent of a product you can hold in your hand and put a match to and smoke, whether they’re the equivalent. And I just don’t know how that’s going to come out. But I would not be shocked if a court says, well, wait a second here. While we can say for a total population, there’s a likelihood that some people will have problems with social media. There’s a ton of intervening factors that would implicate whether a particular person gets the equivalent of cancer. And those factors are not really present for things like tobacco.

* * *

Sloan: If there are damages awarded, how would that, where would that go? Would it be disbursed? I mean it’s a school board, so would it go back into the district? Would it go towards rehabilitation programs? Would it go to the victims? I mean, we don’t know. And that’s what makes it, in my mind, you know, if you’re, if you’re having a pecuniary interest, if they’re alleging that for the social media giants, you could come right back and say, well that’s the school boards, because they just want the money in their district as well.

WAJ: Yeah. And that was a problem in the tobacco litigations. It may not be a problem in terms of winning the case, but the distribution of the funds, there was a lot of abuse where a lot of municipalities got tobacco settlement money and used it for other things. They didn’t use it to treat people who have lung cancer. They didn’t use it for non-smoking campaigns or they didn’t use it substantially, they used it to fill gaps in their budgets.

So at one level, my kids are grown, but even back when they were kids, the earlier days of social media, there’s no question that social media is addicting you. Everybody knows it. The question is, there are a lot of things that may be addicting but doesn’t necessarily give you a legal right to sue over it.

Sugar is incredibly addicting. that you’re sugar craving, can you sue the sugar companies? Maybe it’s been tried, I just don’t know the answer. But my point is just because something can be addicting, so is TV before the internet, the kids used to be addicted to the cartoons on TV. Do we sue the networks? Where does it stop?

And I think, again, tobacco is different because it’s a product, it’s something that you have a direct harm. Nobody, I think I’m safe in saying this, nobody gets healthier from smoking tobacco. How damaging it is might be a different thing, but nobody gets healthier from it. And that’s very different than social media.

People use social media for a lot of different purposes. And whether it’s good or bad, I think it’s one of the worst things that ever happened to our society personally. But, there are upsides of social media. It’s not all downside.

* * *

I think social media is one of the worst things that ever happened to our society. I don’t think people are worse nowadays than they were before the internet at all. But the internet and social media has given them an ability to find other worse people and get together and do bad things and to reach out and touch you. So rather than just whispering rumors about you in the school yard, they now can spread things far and wide, very destructive. But it’s here, it’s not going away.

I do think though, the social media companies from everything I’ve read, do tweak their algorithms to make them more addictive. And maybe if the one thing that came out of this was not just money for school districts, but forcing the companies to stop playing mind games with our kids. And stop manipulating the kids through algorithms and artificial intelligence … But don’t manipulate people. And we all know they manipulate us tremendously….

TikTok seems like the crack cocaine of the internet. And so the rest of the hard drugs and narcotics are bad enough. But I’ve never used TikTok myself. I won’t put it on my phone ’cause it’s basically spyware. But you see replays of TikTok elsewhere, you know, and it does seem to be the crack cocaine of the internet, that people just get this high from being TikTok personalities more so than they did about being Twitter personalities or YouTube personalities. There’s something about it, the way it’s structured, but from what I’ve read, that’s not the way it’s done in China.


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It started with Kim Karsashian’s and Paris Hilton’s home porn movies: the fact they were lauded into stardom instead of shamed into obscurity started it all. The fact of social media’s growing reach only heightened the warpness.

You get pleasure out of insulting an opponent on the internet, and shame out of doing it in person. It’s not social media particularly, just an unstable social structure.

Most sites’ clickbait is insults, in fact, on both left and right.

    alien in reply to rhhardin. | August 30, 2023 at 9:49 pm

    Oh yeah? Says you, ya pencil-necked geek.

      rhhardin in reply to alien. | August 31, 2023 at 6:07 am

      $ insult 10
      You frightful gourd of unhygenic nighthawk flatus
      You moving file of hypertensive kit fox spittle
      You fulsome coffin of infested rat snake debris
      You tyrannous teacup of ravaged vole foam
      You monstrous chalice of unhealthy borzoi precipitates
      You disturbing tassie [Brit] of defiled shrike soot
      You grinding Canterbury of rickety gourami pats
      You dysphemistic skippet of toxical Himalayan cat turd
      You hateful satchel of plagued Rhode Island red scum
      You offensive grip of toxiferous pocket rat excreta

        alien in reply to rhhardin. | August 31, 2023 at 1:06 pm

        Nice list. Of course it’s been stolen. You should have locked it up.

        “Frightful gourd …” I resemble that remark!

          rhhardin in reply to alien. | August 31, 2023 at 1:42 pm

          It’s just a (K&R) C program with a few thesaurus lists. The key loop being
          for(j=0; j<k; j++) {
          printf(" of");

“But I would not be shocked if a court says, well, wait a second here. While we can say for a total population, there’s a likelihood that some people will have problems with social media.”

You could say the same thing about peanuts, alcohol, cats, gambling, acetone, and beekeeping. Courts and government are not my mommy. They should butt out.

    The fact that some people would have problems with the proper use of firearms has never stopped gun control advocates from trying to shred the Bill of Rights – or the inclination of some courts to agree to it. Every court ruling or law that protects 2nd Amendment rights has always led to a fresh round of new gun control efforts that are more draconian and unconstitutional than what came before.

    So it will be with social media and free speech in general. When one major political party is openly totalitarian and the other major political party is too weak and befuddled to resist, the results will be … unpleasant.

My thoughts: Children should not have a tablet, computer, or cell phone until they start driving. They need to learn how to think and reason without the crutch of computers/machines. The phone should have call and voice mail only, no apps, camera access, or text and only have basic calculator functions. The phone should go into airplane mode once the GPS recognizes that it is going 5 mph or faster, Texting and internet access should not go active until they are over 18 and the GPS still shuts down all comms above 5 mph except for mapping aps until they are 25.

    herm2416 in reply to Tsquared79. | August 30, 2023 at 9:54 pm

    Aaaaaamen! NOTHING irritates me more than seeing a glassy-eyed four year old at dinner with her parents, staring at an iPad. Shame on the parents. Take the phone out of the recalcitrant teen’s hands, too.

    inspectorudy in reply to Tsquared79. | August 31, 2023 at 12:43 am

    You are on the right track but a day late and a dollar short. There is no way to undo what has been done. The harm and anguish social media has caused children is unfathomable. Schools and other places that can control their audiences may be able to get away with stopping them from being used while the kids are there but not in there private lives. An entire generation has already been raised on them and we will have to wait twenty years to see the social changes it has caused. What changes to their minds has happened because they no longer reason or think hard for a vague memory? They can look it up in 20 seconds but process of thought is not there. Math is another area where they are being left behind because the phone or tablet is always there to solve the problem. There will be some profound changes but we will have to wait to see what they are.

    TargaGTS in reply to Tsquared79. | August 31, 2023 at 8:16 am

    I agree with this completely. Unfortunately, there are a LOT of schools that are putting tablets/laptops into the hands of children as early as 2nd and 3rd grade. It’s insane.

This was the subject of a “South Park” episode years ago.

IANAL, so can any one explain how the school districts have standing to sue over damage to students’ mental health? I wonder whether these lawsuits could end up strengthening the Left’s mantra that teachers (rather than parents) are the ones who really know what’s best for “their” children.

The same arguments can be made for writing. When writing enters a culture, that ability for people to remember drops by about 10 times. When calculators come along, people forget their math facts (e.g., long division). People develop a different sort of intelligence is social media. For example, my grandson was able to say the alphabet forwards and backwards by the time he was two (a skill he learned on YouTube). It was useful for him, because it helped him fine the content he wanted. He also learned how to read by the time he was 3.

Social media doesn’t do “educated” people any favors, because the knowledge is acquired by the latest trend. Whereas professors are comfortable teaching the same thing every year. That doesn’t work on social media. But social media users have the ability to do custom manufacturing in their own way (something that colleges don’t teach). Which knowledge is more valuable? Shouldn’t the individual, regardless of age, get to make that choice? Parents can use their authority. But authority is like soap; the more you use it, the less you have.

Grouping all social media into one category is a mistake. That’s like making writing criminal because someone used it for extortion. Social media is a broad category even in a single environment. For example, YouTube has a lot of questionable content, such as the NY Times channel. But it also has very good content, such as how to fix your lawnmower. The same thing can be said for most other social-media sites, but I grant I was never able to find anything that benefited me on TikTok.

    henrybowman in reply to InEssence. | August 31, 2023 at 10:42 pm

    “When writing enters a culture, that ability for people to remember drops by about 10 times.”
    No doubt, but the material that culture can remember goes up by incredible orders of magnitude.
    I don’t miss my big book of log tables and my slide rule. Not even my CRC Rubber Bible. I have a phone and an IP address.

This comes under the heading of slamming the barn door after the horses are over the hill.

If you love your kids, then don’t give them a device capable of accessing social media.

Hell, if you love your kids then get off it yourself.

“I think social media is one of the worst things that ever happened to our society.”
I concur.
I also agree that children should have very limited access to screen time…for so many reasons (attention, suicide rates/mental health, reading levels, affect on vision and physical health not being outside and active, affect on creativity and imagination and on and on).
If anything, the lawsuit may wake up some parents to what’s going on.

A personal thanks to you and Sloan.
We’re lucky to have her in NC.

I have always said that social media is the worst invention from man.

Steven Brizel | August 31, 2023 at 9:43 am

Social media destroys one’s ability to think, talk ,read and interact with people.

Social media is an evolutionary bifurcation point.

There are those who will pull back utterly..

Those who will be consumed by it.

And those who will learn to use this tool well.

I’ve said in the past that the world would be better off if we had 50% less television, 80% less television news, and 90% less social media.

I may have underestimated each.