By Jim Powers
I received several responses to my recent column on the Debt Ceiling, which generally called me a part of a socialist takeover attempt in the U.S, pointing out the advantages of Capitalism as an economic system.
First, I would like to make it clear that the U.S. is about as far from Socialism as a country can get. Corporations are so exalted in the U.S. that they have been declared to be persons, with all the rights and freedoms of persons. Through shifting billions of dollars into the campaigns and pockets of politicians, they exert tremendous control over the decisions our governments make. It’s, by design, not a level playing field.
The biggest danger to our country, though, is not through these corporation’s direct hold on our representatives, but their malevolent manipulation of our social structures and direct attack on the minds of Americans. The most concerning attack is on the minds of our children through social media and AI.
These companies are baking a cake for our children “that don’t have icing”. This metaphorical cake, comprising social media platforms and AI-driven content, is consumed by the majority of our young people, and it is increasingly clear that this content is causing a crisis of confidence among them.
A recent advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General has cast a spotlight on this issue. It sounds the alarm on the profound mental health risks social media presents to our kids. We are in a situation where a generation's mental health is under siege, and the role of social media and AI algorithms cannot be understated.
Social media has become ubiquitous among our children, with 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds reporting its use, and more than a third confessing to being almost constantly online. The dark underbelly of this digital ubiquity is the toll it takes on our children's mental health. Studies reveal a direct correlation between social media use and a host of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, poor sleep, online harassment, and diminished self-esteem, particularly among girls.
Pointedly, the design and mechanics of these platforms have been finely honed to keep users engaged and glued to their screens. With push notifications, auto play videos, and infinite scroll features, the platforms are as addictive as they are pervasive, stimulating the brain's reward centers in a way that is frighteningly akin to substance addiction (TikTok is a prime example).
Children aren’t silent about this. They have voiced their experiences, reporting feelings of self-deprecation and dissatisfaction with their friendships, yet they find it challenging to break free from the seductive pull of these platforms. They are not on a level playing field.
A bigger problem is the fact that our children are not just passive consumers in this scenario. They are the targets. The consumers. The victims. Social media platforms and AI algorithms are not merely neutral technologies, but powerful tools wielded by corporations, with the explicit goal of selling products and services to a vulnerable demographic.
This is a call to arms. Our role as protectors of our children's wellbeing is more critical than ever. The Surgeon General's advisory provides some guidance for families, suggesting strategies like creating family media plans, fostering in-person friendships, and demonstrating responsible social media behavior. But this alone is not enough.
We must demand more from corporations and government. Policies and legislation must be enacted to shield our children from this digital onslaught. The responsibility lies not only with parents but also with the policymakers and technology companies that have so far abdicated their responsibilities in the name of profit.
Our children must not become mere statistics or consumers. They are individuals with potential and creativity, deserving to grow up in an environment that respects and values their inherent worth. In this digital age of deliberate illusion, we must remind them, and ourselves, that the cake they are being offered - this world of social media and AI - often lacks icing.
It's time to help them appreciate the value of the cake itself, and more importantly, their inherent value as individuals. They must learn that there is far more beauty within themselves than in any product they can buy from a Facebook, TikTok or YouTube influencer pushing some corporation’s merchandise.
Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His opinions are his and don't necessarily reflect the views of this publication.