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Adolescent advocates urge users to ‘log off’ to push for tech reform

Members of the generation shaped by the rise of social media are now calling on Congress to tackle the online dangers faced by young users.

Anger at social media giants is reaching a boiling point on Capitol Hill as lawmakers demand action from Facebook-owned Instagram after an explosive report detailed internal research into how the platform form harms adolescent mental health.

With growing scrutiny from Congress, Emma Lembke, the 19-year-old behind two youth-led advocacy organizations, says lawmakers must look to Gen Z for regulatory insight.

“We want to change this narrative put together by older members of other generations that teens are passive victims who are simply hurt and constantly affected by social media and have no agency to remedy the situation. This is absolutely not the case, ”Lembke said in an interview with The Hill.

“While we cannot take Senate seats, we can influence those decisions. We have the power and teens have the opportunity to use their own stories and voices to drive change, ”she added.

Lembke is the founder and CEO of the Log Off movement. The advocacy group aims to create a space for teens to discuss the harms of social media and provide resources on reducing their use.

Most recently, the University of Washington freshman started Tech (nically Politics). The new effort focuses on political advocacy, with organizers collecting stories from teenagers to share with lawmakers.

“The second I created Log Off and it kind of took off, I could see the need to have that regular regulatory piece in the puzzle,” said Lembke.

Lembke said teens across the country are being invited to share their stories, and the new organization is looking to connect with lawmakers to put teens at the center of the reform conversation.

The influence of social media on young Americans has been a rare unifying issue in Congress. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have urged Facebook to drop its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under 13.

In a Senate Judicial Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on data privacy last week, Democrats and Republicans questioned a Facebook executive about the Wall Street Journal’s report on Instagram and adolescent mental health that sparked much of the backlash from lawmakers.

Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s vice president of privacy and public policy, dodged issues he said were outside his direct purview, but the heated session sparked a Senate Protection Subcommittee hearing consumer trade scheduled for Thursday where the impact of the photo-sharing app on adolescent mental health will be the focus of concern. Facebook’s global chief security officer Antigone Davis is scheduled to testify at the hearing.

Although Instagram has been the subject of recent criticism, the organizers of Log Off said Congress needs to take a broader view of the effect of social media on teens, including taking a closer look at TikTok and its popularity. growing among young users.

“[Facebook and Instagram have] does a lot to grab the attention of decision makers, but I think it would be a wasted opportunity not to include the major players in the industry who are also working in different ways, in the social media landscape, to make an impact negative about children and manipulate them, ”Lembke said.

Céline Bernhardt-Lanier, the 17-year-old who took the reins of Lembke as CEO of Log Off, said she chose to stay out of TikTok completely after seeing the addictive nature of the app. among his friends.

“I see this is affecting my generation. I have a friend at school who uses TikTok seven hours a day. And so just knowing that, I don’t even want to be on this app, ”said Bernhardt-Lanier.

“I have a strong feeling that we need time well spent, and Instagram for me doesn’t give me that. I try to use social media as little as possible,” she added.

Although Bernhardt-Lanier has said she sets limits on her use of social media, she admits that on some days she will be parading longer than expected. Disconnecting gives teens resources and a space to discuss how to tackle these barriers.

For example, the organization has a Digital Detox Challenge, ranging from three to 21 days, which encourages participants to reduce their daily screen time by 50%.

“I think there is such a lack of awareness of the impact our devices have on us,” especially with the invisible technology that drives the platforms, said Bernhardt-Lanier.

“It’s so hard to fight the pull and the science behind it is so much stronger than your own will to stop. It’s a tough process because I know there are teens out there who want to have these deep conversations and be vulnerable. But I also know it’s very scary and uncomfortable, and there’s this stigma around also talking about social media and technology and the way we interact on those platforms, ”she added. .

The way social media platforms are designed, change cannot rest solely on the shoulders of users – especially vulnerable adolescents – and this is where regulation needs to be put in place, youth advocates say .

“[It’s] almost impossible to explain to someone who didn’t grow up with social media as a piece of their childhood just how important it can be and how it can be that way of self-expression. But with the current algorithms in place, that’s not possible, ”Lembke said. “And I think it works to find out: how can we build apps in a more human way? How can we really explore the regulation of these companies in order to reclaim social media as a tool instead of that addictive element in our lives? “

Lembke or Bernhardt-Lanier are not immediately expected to testify before Congress, but youth organizers say it would be beneficial for lawmakers to listen to the generation most affected by the platforms and potential reform.

“Lawmakers really need to watch teens because youth voice and activism are so important, because these devices affect us the most,” said Bernhardt-Lanier.

Lembke said that proposals such as Sen. Ed markeyEd MarkeyWarren and Bush Propose Bill to Give HHS Power to Impose Moratorium on Evictions Overnight Energy & Environment – Brought to you by Climate Power – Energy proposal from Senate Democrats ding Biden Six Democrats blow up reserve pitch d uranium from the Department of Energy‘s (D-Mass.) KIDS Act, which he plans to reintroduce this year, is a good place to start. The legislation would regulate the design features of the platforms, including banning “auto-play” features and targeting manipulative online marketing by prohibiting sites from recommending videos that include influencer marketing to children and teens.

Lembke also said policymakers should look to the UK, which has put in place stronger privacy protections as part of its new age-appropriate design code, as a guide to regulations.

“It is extremely important that this is seen in the political landscape through the prism of public health. It’s not just about saying, “Break big tech, go after these huge companies. This is a mental health crisis. Children are abused, ”Lembke said.

“There is so much happening to adolescents that it has created this public health crisis. I think shifting the conversations around the political landscape to really focus on this is going to be essential to move anything forward, ”she added.

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