In testimony earlier than a Senate subcommittee final week, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook worker turned whistleblower, raised a number of important and complex policy questions about how society would possibly higher regulate the wayward social-media large.
But she additionally raised a really primary query, one for which neither the listening to nor her leaked inner paperwork offered a transparent reply.
The query is: Is social media a hazard to youngsters? The reply is: We don’t know.
Nobody actually does — not child-development experts, not expertise corporations, not youngsters and never, alas, hapless dad and mom like myself. And in leaping to the conclusion that Facebook’s Instagram platform and different social-media providers would be the destroy of the subsequent technology, we — the information media specifically and society typically — could also be tripping right into a entice that has gotten us time and again: an ethical panic during which we draw broad, alarming conclusions in regards to the hidden risks of novel types of media, new applied sciences or new concepts spreading among the many youth.
Comic books, tv, rock music, rap music, disco, video video games and political correctness are among the many topics which have generated mass panic prior to now. You’d assume that this litany of media jumpiness would stop new scares, however we stay as panicky as ever — notice our tradition’s present preoccupation with the supposed scourges of crucial race principle and cancel tradition.
In the final couple years I’ve turn into particularly cautious of such panics, as a result of the phenomenon is an obsession of two of my favorite media critics, journalists Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes, the creators of an excellent podcast called “You’re Wrong About.” The present takes a revisionist have a look at media narratives that after despatched the tradition into hair-singed fear — issues just like the “satanic panic” of the 1980s (are witches operating your baby’s day care centre?), the “sexting” scare of the late 2000s and the extensively exaggerated concern, within the Nineties, that city gangs posed a horrible menace to public security.
There can be the query of how a lockout from social media might have an effect on my youngsters’ well-being. If I cease them from utilizing the app the place all of their buddies hang around, am I performing just like the stodgy dad who wouldn’t let his youngsters take heed to Elvis?
Although every “You’re Wrong About” episode focuses on a selected panic, Marshall and Hobbes’ bigger challenge has been to create a type of cartography of media dread — to map how such narratives of concern take maintain in media and grasp on even when they’re supported by little proof. Their work suggests the central attraction of pumping up fright: Moral panics usually redirect society’s consideration away from massive, troublesome issues — what are we going to do about America’s gun tradition? — to small, however splendidly straightforward one-off options: Let’s simply ban violent video video games and name it a day, lets?
As I watched Haugen’s testimony final week, I couldn’t assist however spot patterns of ethical panic. Many of the lawmakers’ questions and Haugen’s solutions gave the impression to be animated much less by knowledge than by assumption. At instances the listening to felt like a real-life model of that meme from “The Simpsons”: “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”