CNN Goes Full Moral Panic About Kids And Social Media

from the have-we-no-balance? dept

CNN, the news organization that, until recently, employed Chris Cuomo, and still employs Jeffrey Toobin, and is (for the moment at least) owned by AT&T which funded an entire extremist propaganda TV network just to appease President Trump (not to mention being absolutely terrible on privacy issues), wants you to hate social media. There may be reasons to hate on social media, but it’s difficult to take CNN seriously when it presents itself (1) as some unbiased party in this discussion, and (2) puts forth an article that is nothing more than blatant moral panic propaganda about kids and social media.

Are there dangers to kids on social media? Maybe! Are there benefits for kids on social media? Maybe! Does the article only present one side full of anecdotes without any actual data? You bet. The article presents a couple of anecdotes about teens with depression, and then just insists that it’s because of social media. Apparently it may surprise CNN’s reporters to learn this, but teenagers (and adults) have been dealing with depression for a long, long time, including before social media existed. Again, it’s entirely possible that social media creates image problems for teens, but the article repeatedly just insists its true without evidence. It opens with a pure anecdote that is designed to pull at the emotional heart strings.

Last September, just a few weeks into the school year, Sabine Polak got a call from the guidance counselor. Her 14-year-old daughter was struggling with depression and had contemplated suicide.

“I was completely floored,” said Polak, 45, who lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. “I had no clue she was even feeling remotely down at all. When I asked her about it, she just kept saying she wanted to get away from it all … but I didn’t know what that meant.”

After taking her to a crisis center, which banned phone use for anyone checking in, Polak learned from her daughter that the pressures of social media were driving her increased anxiety. The main source of stress: waiting for her friends to open and respond to messages and photos on Snapchat.

Okay. But people had anxiety pre-internet as well. It’s easy to blame it on these services, but what actual evidence is there? The article presents literally none.

And the only attempts at pointing to “evidence”… doesn’t say what it seems to think it says. There are just some of the documents Frances Haugen revealed, which showed a study that Facebook/Instagram conducted showing that some teens self-reported that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves. But what nearly all of the reporting left out — and CNN of course ignores — is that same study showed a much larger percentage said that Instagram made them feel better about themselves.

That doesn’t mean that anyone should discount those who are depressed, or those who claim that Instagram and social media make them feel worse about themselves. Because anything that can be done to help should be explored. But presenting a totally one-sided article that suggests social media is all bad for kids and dangerous ignores all the people (again, a much larger percentage) who found that social media helps them.

It seems most likely that much of it depends on existing personality types and how people use social media. If you use it to make connections and maintain friendships, it can be super helpful. If you use it as a barometer of how much better other people’s lives are, it’s easy to see how it can be damaging. But how do you allow one and prevent the other?

Unfortunately, the CNN piece explores exactly none of this nuance. Instead, it just runs the party line: “social media = bad for teens.” And in doing so it ignores all the many teens who are able to connect with people, or find their communities, or explore interests that their local schoolmates might not have, all thanks to the internet’s ability to bring them together.

Any serious look at the challenges and negative impacts of social media has to take into account the flipside as well, and come up with some sort of plan to balance the two, and explore how do you help encourage more of the good kind of connectivity, and minimize the problematic kinds. But that’s not what CNN gives you. If you read the CNN article you’d naturally assume that all social media is bad for all teens, and the only solution is to take the phone away from your kid.

Later in the article, there’s a second bit of “evidence,” but it comes from Bark, a company that sells parental snooping software and has a huge economic incentive to scare parents into believing their kids are all being lead astray by social media. Again, a thoughtful exploration of the challenges of teens and social media might look for a more credible source, but that’s not what CNN’s reporters were doing. They had a narrative, and they needed to support it, so this is what they got.

Some data also support that mental health issues among young people on social media are on the rise. Bark, a paid monitoring service that screens social media apps, personal messages and emails for terms and phrases that could indicate concerns, said it saw a 143% increase in alerts sent around self-harm and suicidal ideation during the first three months of 2021 compared to the year prior. (Parents receive alerts when Bark detects potential issues, along with expert recommendations from child psychologists for how to address them.)

“Our children’s lives are buried deep within their phones and the problems live within their digital signal in places that parents don’t go,” said Titania Jordan, chief marketing officer of Bark. “If you’re not spending time in the places where your children are online, how can you be educated and then how can you give them guidance?”

Yeah, quote the person trying to sell subscriptions to the service, because that’s reliable and credible.

And the article does basically nothing in exploring the challenges of what you might actually do about this if it were true. There are suggestions of taking away these services from kids, which again kind of ignores that many more people find these services helpful and useful than find them harmful. Or there’s the suggestion — I kid you not — of forcing kids to watch The Social Dilemma.

Polak, the mother whose daughter had suicidal thoughts, has proposed a Mental Health Awareness Week at her daughter’s school that would include screenings of Childhood 2.0 and The Social Dilemma — two documentaries that touch on how platforms are impacting the well-being of its users.

As we’ve explained, that documentary is almost entirely misinformation about how social media applications work. So the “solution” to the bad things that social media does to kids (unsupported by any facts) is to… share with them a propaganda film full of disinformation? Genius.

In 20 years or so, we’re going to look back on these moral panics and laugh, just as we did with moral panics in the past. Rock and roll, Dungeons & Dragons, TV, radio, pinball, etc., all promised to rot our brains. This time around it’s social media.

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Companies: cnn, instagram

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Comments on “CNN Goes Full Moral Panic About Kids And Social Media”

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29 Comments
ECA (profile) says:

There is a study

There is always a study.
But allot of them are bogus BS.
There is 1 I liked, about how Smart kids being Pushed into higher levels of School and dealing with Older kids, REALLY SUCKS FOR THEM.
Also, Parents need to learn something here also. BE THERE FOR YOUR KIDS, be able to talk and communicate to them ABOUT LIFE AND PEOPLE.
They need to learn a few lifes lessons. Everyone thinks of themselves, FIRST. we keep thinking we need a pat on the head EVERY time we think we do something(anything). We want reaction from others.
and there is only 1 way to do that, GO AND MEET WITH YOUR GROUPS. dont sit at home waiting like a lonely dog waiting for his master.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
katsai (profile) says:

In the 90s, fashion magazines aimed at teens were to blame for depression/poor self-image. Oh, and also grunge music. Everyone seems to forget how much growing up sucks, and how scary the teen years are by the time they have teens of their own. Easier to blame the new hotness than try to understand what your kid is going through, I guess.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… fashion magazines … were to blame for … grunge music.

Fashion magazines were responsible for grunge music? And all this time I’d been thinking that it was just Seattle suffering from a severe case of upset bowels. Well, fuck me to tears. Seems like just about every day I learn that something I thought was Gospel, really wasn’t true at all. Go figure.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Koby (profile) says:

Digital Addiction

In today’s internet age of instant gratification, some kids who have grown up to know nothing else in their lifetimes are now incapable of coping without a constant stream of attention and social approval through their phone. I never thought I’d agree with CNNLOL, but regulating this digital nicotine would be an excellent first step.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Digital Addiction

You say that as if you have some proof. But there remains none.

And comparing speech to nicotine is quite a take — especially from you, someone who has regularly insisted ANY moderation is "censorship."

But now you’re all for such "censorship"? Do you not see what a hypocrite you are?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Digital Addiction

You know what, it’s always funny as fuck when adults keep pointing out this mysterious "instant gratification" which somehow only kids have and have to be constantly reminded of how much they suck because of it. Because clearly, wanting everything "now now now" is exclusive to children, and not the Karens demanding to see the manager, the bosses demanding that employees go into unpaid overtime just to please the unreasonable requests of a backstabbing client, or the companies insisting that fresh graduates must have three to five years of working experience before being allowed in a workplace.

You could remove social media right now – or any of the "devil’s tools" contributing to modern moral panics – and children wouldn’t be any better off. You could take children off of Instagram and they’d still be comparing themselves to each other, or having adults do that for them. There will always be a way for adults to make children miserable and blame it on something else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Digital Addiction

Ah yes, let’s regulate how society functions through total information control, where teenagers still have to fucking deal with their peers, but COVID DENIALISM, PROMOTION OF TERRORISM (AND WHITE SUPREMACY), AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES are considered above censorship!

You fucking Nazis are all the same. Censorship, but only for shit you don’t like.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Digital Addiction

Censorship, but only for shit you don’t like.

It’s more like: "Censorship, but only for the facts that prove you’re wrong."

And it’s also too damn bad that we can’t pass a law against ButtHurtism. We can’t, because it’s become a religion for nearly half of the country.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Digital Addiction

"some kids who have grown up to know nothing else in their lifetimes are now incapable of coping without a constant stream of attention and social approval through their phone"

Also, some geriatric ex-presidents. If there weren’t such recent examples of people who grew up well before social media existed using it to garner attention then throwing tantrums when their toy is taken away, this might be a (slightly) more valid point.

Meanwhile, some in our present company seem to know nothing else other than constantly spamming forums with false takes that result in nothing more than mockery and abuse from people equated with facts, which would seem to be more problematic.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Jojo (profile) says:

Here’s a Hot Take

But has anyone feel that the quality of news has gotten worse for the past year? And no, not just with the right-wing media, that was always on the decline, but with left-leaning media sources as well. Washington Post and CNN are probably exemplar in the most frustrating decline, with the increasingly over reliance on sensationalism, pathos, fearmongering, and a tone deaf incorporation of a fairness doctrine that feels more like self-defeating bothsidesism. It feels like fact and truth are being taken out of the driver’s seat and in its place are anecdotal and emotional appeals.

Look, I’m not saying that either Washington Post or CNN are becoming as reliable as Fox News, but I feel that they are on that trajectory. Plus, Jeff Bezos owning the former of the examples doesn’t help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Here’s a Hot Take

Yeah, they have long been transparently pushing their own selfish business agenda since they invented the "Techlash". That transparent agenda made me disengage some. Since the lockdown they went downright psychotic ludditte making tech the well of all sorrows while demanding to be paid richly for doing a piss poor job at journalism which could be compared unfavorably to a high school newspaper! And they dare to call themselves professionals.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"The main source of stress: waiting for her friends to open and respond to messages and photos on Snapchat."

O M G Becki!
Perhaps teaching your child that they are not the center of the universe would have helped here.
I swear I’ve mentioned that whole Skinner Box press a button for instant gratification thing before.
How long has this child ever had to wait for anything they just had to have?
I know I shouldn’t mock the suicidal, but ‘they didn’t read my message fast enough’ shows a much deeper problem with the child than social media.

But hey its trendy to blame all the things on social media & pretend that someone else will fix it & parents don’t have to raise a finger, except to point it at Zucks for being the devil.

It is a pity that once again there is a huge problem with dangerous outcomes happening & instead of getting all the information we think it will just vanish one day and we don’t need masks or vaccines.

I mean its only your kids lives on the line, its to hard to really dig into whats happening, we’ll just blame social media and expect everyone else to solve it for us with a viewing of "documentaries" that suffer from the same confirmation bias that lets parents off the hook so they can pretend they have no part in this.

Meanwhile there are children being bullied daily, schools & parents looking away until something bad happens then its the fault of social media not the little bastard children who tormented someone else with no one doing a gosh darn thing to stop it.

Sometimes your kids are shitty, and if your first response to that was ‘not my child’ I dare you to look at the messages your child is sending to others, because you are in for a big surprise.

You ignore your children on social media pretending its to hard & expecting corporations to take care of it for you… how fscking stupid are you?
Social media is sooo bad, but you just bought your kid the new ithingy so they can do it faster & better than before… mixed messages much?
You don’t need to spend thousands on tracking/spying, how about just sitting down with your kid, putting your phones face down & asking them how they are doing and expecting more than okay i guess as a response.
Instead of demanding they show you everything they are doing online, instead ask them what they are into & to see those things. Do the really basic cheap thing & talk to your child in realtime & put time into the relationship so when your child has a problem they know they can come to you & get support rather than being blown off because you are busy posting on FB how awesome a parent you are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Teenage years are difficult for most kids, parents can be rude stupid or selfish, or poor, schools can be bad, boring or mediocre, religious schools are not great for llgnyt kids, social. Media is the new villain target, it used to be rock and roll, jazz music, comic books, video games, TV, every new form of media has been accused of ruining kids also social media competes for TV for eyeballs advertising time so TV old media is constantly attacking big tech
Many studys are underfunded or have a tiny no of users
You need to survey 1000s of people in debth to get good results which takes time and money

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

So these mofos are complaining they find out their kids are depressed or something via social media? Well at least their kids were talking to someone. They clearly weren’t going to talk to any parent or "responsible adult", so i guess those people… didn’t want to know then?

Also: There was some uptick in someone’s chosen Bad Things indicators at the beginning of 2021? That aligns with the creation or availability os social media how, exactly? Bit late to the game with that claim.

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