Sex, Drugs... And Facebook? Moral Panic Police Blaming Social Networks For Kids Being Kids

from the correlation-vs.-causation dept

Ah, the moral panic police are out in force yet again. A recent report from the "National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse" is getting some attention for a study which claims that teens who spend more time on social networking sites like Facebook are five times more likely to drink, smoke and take drugs. The study also found that kids who watch reality shows are also more likely to take drugs as well. And, of course, they seem to automatically assume the causal relationship is in that direction:
"The anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression and suggestive television programming that teens are exposed to on a daily basis puts them at increased risk of substance abuse," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia's founder and chairman, in a statement.
It seems we have a classic conflation of correlation and causation. You could just as easily suggest that taking drugs, smoking and drinking lead teens to spend more time on Facebook. Or, more likely, it's a third factor. The general type of teen who is more likely to be active on a social network is also more likely to be active in the sort of social activities that teens are involved in -- which (despite some adults' denial) still includes drinking, smoking and taking drugs (sex too, I imagine). But pinning the blame on social networking is silly. I would bet that the same kids probably use text messaging more often. Would CASA also say that text messaging "puts kids at increased risk." Correlation is not causation and since the "National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse" is based at Columbia University, you'd think that someone there was familiar with this basic concept.

Oh, and... obligatory xkcd:
Correlation


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Nina Paley (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:33am

    causal sex

    It also leads to causal sex.

     

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  2.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:33am

    For me, the classic example in the correlation/causality confusion is Mark Twain who said something like "It's true that I fought for the confederacy for six weeks. Then I deserted, and the south fell."

     

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  3.  
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    blaktron (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:39am

    Correlation between...

    elementary school and sex. All sexually active teenagers attended elementary students within 5 years of first becoming sexually active. We must put an end to these 'places of fun and learning' that are destroying the very moral fibre of our society!!

     

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  4.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:41am

    Neither of my teenagers will open a Facebook account, because, as they put it, if I'm on Facebook it can't be cool. Neither of my teenagers is drinking or doing drugs either.

    So obviously, hanging on out FB as a parent keeps your kids away from drugs and alcohol.

    And people told me this parenting thing would be difficult.

     

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  5.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:46am

    Re:

    "Neither of my teenagers will open a Facebook account, because, as they put it, if I'm on Facebook it can't be cool. Neither of my teenagers is drinking or doing drugs either."

    In the spirit of fucking up correlation and causation, I can only assume that you drink and do drugs heavily.

    Yay! This is fun!

     

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  6.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:53am

    Re:

    "Neither of my teenagers is drinking or doing drugs either"

    There was a time when my parents thought that about, too...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:01am

    "...are five times more likely to drink, smoke and take drugs"

    Five times more likely than who? Those that sit still inside a sterilized bubble, with no connection to the outside world?

     

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  8.  
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    Scott, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:01am

    By the way, the cartoon on this post is actually from xkcd.com Seems like it would be nice to mention that, considering the nature of your blog (which I do enjoy) :)

     

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  9.  
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    Derek (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:02am

    Extravert

    Sounds like they are describing a typical extravert. Maybe we should make that illegal?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:02am

    Someone should send him the pastafarian graphs proving that the decline of pirates started global warming.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PiratesVsTemp%28en%29.svg

    http://www.venganza.org/a bout/open-letter/

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:05am

    Re: Correlation between...

    You should plot a graph of schooling years compared to sexual initiation.

    Also one should plot a graph of sexuality while attending school showing how bad it is to go to college.

     

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  12.  
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    Pixelation, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:09am

    The RIAA did it...

    I think there is an increase in young people using drugs and having sex correlating to the increase in copyright enforcement. The RIAA is ruining our children!

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:11am

    Re: causal sex

    I need to get on Facebook.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:12am

    The most important issue of the internet is that it opens up communications to a level that can encourage behaviour that is otherwise not acceptable to the general public.

    There may only be a single Nina Paley fan in each state (unproven), but the internet allows all 50 of them to get together and chat and act like everything Nina does is somehow perfect. Without the internet, the other 49 wouldn't be in contact with them, and they may doubt the perfection that is Nina Paley.

    The internet has also allowed people who are sick with very rare diseases to get in contact with others with the same illness. There may only be a dozen of them on the planet, but they can group together and find whatever support they can as a result.

    Taken to it's next step, the internet also allows marginal people in society to have a way to meet others similar to them. The usual situation cited would be child predators (thing about the children). There may only be 1 or 2 perverts in your town, but in thousands of towns, that is a huge collection of perverts encouraging each other allow, offering "support" and trading "proof" videos and images. They can perhaps take someone who has these sick fantasies but has never acted on them, and provide them the needed information and support to act upon those urges.

    It also means that your child, rather than being exposed to only a couple of local perverts, is exposed to a net packed full of perverts, people who will fly or drive hours if they think they have met the perfect victim online.

    Basically, the internet is a "to the power of N" increase in both positive and negative exposures, and has increased the risks as a result.

     

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  15.  
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    herbert, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:12am

    so when are all the 'social network sites' going to be shut down then? i mean, 'think of the children!'

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:15am

    Re: Extravert

    No, being a teen should be illegal. That'd keep teens from having sex, doing drugs, drinking, or hating America.

     

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  17.  
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    JackHerer (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:25am

    Easy test

    The thing is if there is a causal relationship it is so easy to test. E.g. Use of social networks has increased massively over the last five years. If there is a causal relationship you would expect a corresponding increase in drinking, smoking and taking drugs in the same peer group. Has there been one? Who knows, it doesn't appear they even addressed the question.

     

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  18.  
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    Lisa Westveld (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:28am

    This reminds me of the Dutch Psychology professor in the Netherlands, Diederik Stapel. Recently, he published a report which told that people who eat meat are salfish bastards. He explained that meat eaters are basically the scum of the world and Vegetarians are just nice, friendly people.
    He should not have done this, though. People distrusted this report and asked for facts, scientific data and whatever more. There was none...
    Then they started asking for facts and research data for his other publications... Still none.
    And now this Professor is suspended, probably to lose his tenure and all his publications are now suspected to be untrue.
    So, this research looks like Diederik Stapel wrote it. Then again, he's probable not the only unreliable professor. As long as these people are encouraged to just publish a lot, there will always be some fraudulous publications just for the heck of it...

     

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  19.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:28am

    Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    First, "increased risk" doesn't mean "entire cause"; the quote is of self-evident fact: being online fosters more undesirable behavior. The Internet is a cesspool where the lowest urges and goals hold sway.

    So what I think far more interesting are the unending rants by hippie types such as Mike who object to ANY suggestion that kids might better spend their time than by "social networking" or playing video games.

    He's thrown an irrelevant buzzword of "statistics" over it here, but the simple fact is that Mike is a "rebel without a cause", doesn't hold to any noticeable standard except that /he's/ an authority (that's the basis of asserting that "statistics" disprove the quote, though Mike just exaggerated in order to trot out his specialty). Hence his sneering tone at "moral panic", when it's merely an obvious observation of yet more societal decline.

     

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  20.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: causal sex

    try adult friend finder instead ...

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:30am

    Re: Easy test

    No, it won't because before this it was MTV. And before that it was rap music. And before that it was disco. And before that it was the beatles. And before that it was the 60s. And before that it was elvis's crotch.

    If only we had a few years without anything we could stop kids from drinking and having sex and doing drugs.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:32am

    Re: The RIAA did it...

    If you draw up a a document to send to representatives stating this, I will sign.

     

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  23.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re: Extravert

    Wouldn't work unless it were a capital offense. Plenty of sex, drugs, booze, and hating of The Man going on in prison.

    On the other hand, it would at least keep the bloody stupid little shits where I wouldn't have to put up with them. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:44am

    Re:

    "It also means that your child, rather than being exposed to only a couple of local perverts, is exposed to a net packed full of perverts, people who will fly or drive hours if they think they have met the perfect victim online."

    Possible but unlikely, since the majority of rapes occur at the hands of someone that is close to the victim and according to some 2/3 of all rapes is the number.

    http://www.rainn.org/statistics

    And according to wikipedia reporting the UN numbers the US is king of rapes leading the pack with 90 thousands cases of rape while in other countries it doesn't even get into the 10's of thousands.

    Which leads me to believe that this probably is more of a cultural thing, and how the US is counting as rape.

    The US can't be that much removed from other countries.

     

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  25.  
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    AG Wright, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:46am

    Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    "The Internet is a cesspool where the lowest urges and goals hold sway."

    Have you ever heard the old saying that you find what you look for in people?
    If you look for cess, you will find it. If you look for friendship, communication, knowledge, companionship, music, movies, and human beings you will find them.
    Some people are trash. Some are saints. It's always been that way and always will be.

     

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  26.  
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    Jason, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:49am

    Re: Here is mine, cracks me up

    Data from Berlin (Germany) show a significant correlation between the increase in the stork population around the city and the increase in deliveries outside city hospitals (out-of-hospital deliveries). However, there is no correlation between deliveries in hospital buildings (clinical deliveries) and the stork population. The decline in the number of pairs of storks in the German state of Lower Saxony between 1970 and 1985 correlated with the decrease of deliveries in that area. The nearly constant number of deliveries from 1985 to 1995 was associated with an unchanged stork population (no statistical significance). However, the relevance of the stork for the birth rate in that part of Germany remains unclear, because the number of out-of-hospital deliveries in this area is not well documented. A lack of statistical information on out-of-hospital deliveries in general is a severe handicap for further proof for the Theory of the Stork.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14738551

    It should be a joke, but I am not sure LOL! The site seems legit.

     

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  27.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    the quote is of self-evident fact: being online fosters more undesirable behavior

    Ummm... could you please explain how that is self-evident? I've heard the same thing said about comic books, movies, chess and the waltz - yet society has so far failed to crumble.

     

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  28.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:56am

    Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    And who gets to decide what behaviour is "undesirable"?

    You? I never pegged you as a moralist dictator, blue...

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:00am

    Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    "the quote is of self-evident fact: being online fosters more undesirable behavior."

    Is it now? Interesting. How has it affected you then? Have you gone berserk recently? How much booze, drugs and sex have you had today? I ask because you are a recurring character here on Techdirt, so I assume that you spend a lot of time online.

     

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  30.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:01am

    Re: Easy test

    That would still only show a correlation.

     

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  31.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:01am

    Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    " being online fosters more undesirable behavior"

    Like trolling blogs?

     

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  32.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:06am

    Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Re "Have you ever heard the old saying that you find what you look for in people?"

    in short, there's a basic assymetry encapsulated in wit: Put a barrel of wine into a cesspool, you get sewage. Put a drop of sewage into a barrel of wine, you get sewage.

    Just regard me as a Sanitation Engineer.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    So what I think far more interesting are the unending rants by hippie types such as Mike who object to ANY suggestion that kids might better spend their time than by "social networking" or playing video games.


    That's 'The Maz' to you. Only freetards get to call him Mike.

     

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  34.  
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    Dementia (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    Re: Re: Here is mine, cracks me up

    It is a legitimate site, but just remember, the CDC put out a guide on preparing for the zombie apocalypse too. Granted it is a blog on the CDC's website, but still....

    http://www.bt.cdc.gov/socialmedia/zombies_blog.asp

     

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  35.  
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    Dementia (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Better idea, I'll just disregard you.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:10am

    Social networking sites don't make kids do those things any more than Facebook makes spouses cheat. But what it DOES do is provide more and quicker access to like-minded others.

    In the proverbial "good ol' days", a teen in rural America would have to get in Daddy's pick 'em up truck and drive three towns over and hope that his druggie friends were there too in order to have a night of debauchery. With texting and social media, you can cook up a party in less then 10 seconds.

    Similarly, a man who's unhappy in his relationship these days need only set up an online profile and within hours, he'll find an old girlfriend or someone willing to cheat with him. Used to, it took a lot more planning and "late nights in the office", etc. to put something like that together.

    No, social media doesn't cause the kinds of people who do those things to do those things. But I think social media facilitates and accelerates those behaviors for those who are already so inclined. Fortunately, social media is also very trackable so people get caught more easily as well.

    The Zuck gives, and the Zuck takes away. =)

     

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  37.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Morality is not dictated by me but by reality. I'm a Randist up to a point.

     

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  38.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Any moralizing that I do applies equally to me. Exceptionalism is a great moral failing in itsel.

     

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  39.  
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    HothMonster, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re:

    yeah my mom thought that till the cops brought me home

     

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  40.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:23am

    Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    "That's 'The Maz' to you. Only freetards get to call him Mike."

    What an empty off-topic response. You freetards don't grasp that you detract from the site with vacuity. At least I've drawn out a few yips. -- And if are ANY more like the above, I JUST MAY NOT BE BACK!




    [Sigh. I'm afraid some WILL take that bait.]

     

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  41.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:29am

    Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Yes, "PaulT", and you should quit your trolling. -- See how easy that was to turn on you? I used to worry that you fanboy-trolls would improve your wit at least, but it's now more like faint hope. I no longer expect anything on-topic, just catty invective.

     

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  42.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:30am

    Re:

    By the way, the cartoon on this post is actually from xkcd.com Seems like it would be nice to mention that, considering the nature of your blog (which I do enjoy) :)

    Dah! I thought I'd included a link, but I didn't. Fixed.

     

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  43.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Dementia (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:09am

    Better idea, I'll just disregard you.


    You've failed at that so far, sonny. Trying to excise upsetting thoughts from your consciousness shows that your beliefs aren't very strong. So just stick your fingers in your ears and hum loudly.

     

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  44.  
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    Roujo (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:45am

    Wow

    Not only did you link to the comic, you also put the original alt-text. Awesome. =D

     

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  45.  
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    CommonSense (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re:

    My mom thought that about me all the way up until she dropped me off at college one weekend after a visit home, and my dorm room was covered with empty beer cans and cups... I tried to tell her, "Mom, I was home with you all weekend, this stuff only happens when I'm not here!" But it was probably my inability to keep a straight face while saying that which made her finally realize, I was a normal teenage boy.

     

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  46.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:07am

    Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Umm... isn't the Randian philosophy that the only true morality is rational self-interest and the pursuit of happiness, made possible by laissez-faire capitalism?

    How does that even begin to relate to the idea that the internet is immoral?

     

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  47.  
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    blaktron (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    So you believe in absolute morality? Did God tell you about it?

     

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  48.  
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    Thomas (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:35am

    Reality shows...

    some of them are enough to drive anyone to drugs! I watched 5 minutes of "Jersey Shore" and it was hideous.

     

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  49.  
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    monkyyy, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:41am

    Re: Re: Easy test

    actually it wouldnt, i may be crazy but drugs have been around for a very long time, and sex has been very popular in any culture

    i think if anything sex among teenagers has gone down since it was once common for teenagers to get married

     

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  50.  
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    Jay (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Uhm... Based on Objectivist beliefs, there may not be a God per se, but instead it's your own selfish desires that dictate your actions.

     

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  51.  
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    blaktron (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Extravert

    Have you been, or talked to, a teen lately? It basically is illegal. They have municipal curfews, get constantly harassed by the police for 'loitering', there are 'no skateboarding' signs everywhere (meanwhile, the country dies of obesity...). Its not looking rosy for North America's teenagers, and hasn't for awhile.

     

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  52.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 12:26pm

    Watch out! Hanging out on Facebook...

    ...could lead to dancing.

     

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  53.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    You freetards don't grasp that you detract from the site with vacuity.


    Oh yeah? I can make up words too. You're a festezio.

     

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  54.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Extravert

    Have you been, or talked to, a teen lately?


    No, and why the hell would I want to talk to one of them?

     

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  55.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 1:42pm

    Re:

    I'm surprised it took you to paragraph 4 to bring up CP. You seem to have a sick fascination with the subject. Get help.

     

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  56.  
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    shad0w (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 4:31pm

    I've spent probably 5x more time on the computer than any kid my age. I guess that makes me 25x more likely to smoke, drink and have sex. I've done none.

    An incredible finding when you take into account the fact that kids who spend more time on Facebook have less time to socialize in real life, which would equate to less time doing the aforementioned "immoral" behavior.

     

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  57.  
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    Paul, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 5:39pm

    If anyone can navigate round facebook whilst off their sweet tits then I applaud them mightily. I can't even do it straight.

    As for reality TV, you'd have to be on crack to even vaguely enjoy most of it. Perhaps a niche marketing outlet for dealers is possible there?

    American Idol - Sponsored by 'Heroin: For when Pot doesn't distort your reality enough'

     

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  58.  
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    Paul, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 5:44pm

    Has anyone considered that all these little bastards are just lying so they don't look like lame ass losers who just sit at their PC's jerking off constantly?

    No? Cos kids never ever ever lie about taking drugs or how much they've been getting the ol' nasty, just so's they can look a bit cool.

    Perhaps spending so much time with all this pointless nonsense has made them utterly fatalist about lie and they're all determined to die by the age of 23 to avoid having to watch yet another season of utter bunkum.

    Or perhaps there might be a class/educational link towards these two factors... nah that's silly.

     

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  59.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Oh yeah? I can make up words too. You're a festezio.

    That might have been have been a lot funnier if out_of_the_blue hadnít used a real word.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vacuity

    As for out_of_the_blue's comments in general, all I'm going to say is this: A mind is a terrible thing to lose.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  60.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    That might have been have been....

    Ooof. Sorry about the double vision thing there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  61.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 12:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    That was the joke buddy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  62.  
    icon
    Lisa Westveld (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 1:17am

    Re:

    Not smoking, okay. Not drinking, okay. No sex??? You're still a virgin? Wow! Are you a monk or priest? :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  63.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 2:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Mike's knee-jerk reaction to any moralizing.

    Awww.... hit a nerve did I? By the way, I do love the way you manage to turn people calling you on your own pathetic tactics to "fanboy trolls".

    What is a shame is that occasionally you do have a valid point and can formulate an argument every so often - unlike a particular AC I can think of. A shame that you so often waste this talent on contraria bull, though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  64.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm a priest who spends time online, is that illegal now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  65.  
    identicon
    hmbanana, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 4:42pm

    Casual Sex

    I still have never done drugs, but I have drank and had sex and I still don't have a facebook account. If it's any cooralation (sorry, spelling isn't my forte), my teenage daughter and my teenage son both have facebook accounts and neither of them do drugs, or drink. Both of them are virgins too. Most people would be skeptical, but I know where they are, when they are there, and - honestly - I don't trust them that much. So, when they want to be in a school activity, I check with the head of the activity. Just my opinion though

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  66.  
    identicon
    Galen, Sep 11th, 2011 @ 11:08pm

    Re: causal sex

    no sex must be casual!!! it must be very formal involving tuxedos and fancy food!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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