Social Media Ban For Teens? A Free-Market Philosopher Makes The Case

Cyberbullying has gained ground again this school year. For philosopher and free-market advocate Gaspard Koenig, it's simple: social media has the effects of an addictive and harmful drug, and thus forbidden for those under 16.

Social Media Ban For Teens? A Free-Market Philosopher Makes The Case

"Digital native" students are increasingly deprived of a basic ability to concentrate

Gaspard Koenig

My daughter, born in 2010, is entering the sixth grade. In the last few days, I have received a series of alerts warning me about the "cyberbullying" that is currently targeting the "2010 generation." Following the video of a precocious French YouTuber, the "2010s" are the object of a mocking, sometimes hateful, vindictiveness on the part of their middle school elders (hashtag #Anti2010).

The affair has gained enough importance for the French National Police to remind us that "digital raiding" is a crime, and for the Minister of Education to denounce this cabal in terms that do not hide his consternation: "It's completely stupid."

It is completely stupid, indeed. But will the "2010s" — whose return to school means joining the ranks of TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram — have the means to acquire the cognitive ability necessary to distance themselves from their phones? How can we not shudder at Facebook's plan to create an Instagram for those under 13?

Let's stop "adultizing" children

Beyond the issue of cyberbullying, I see the perverse effect of social media addiction when I teach "digital native" students, who are increasingly deprived of a basic ability to concentrate (keeping a book in hand for an hour, without tapping a like or a retweet, has become a physiological impossibility for some). I can only share neuroscientist Michel Desmurget's concern about the "digital moron factory."

I'm someone who doesn't like prohibitions.

We must stop infantilizing adults. But as a corollary, let's stop adultizing children. The whole philosophy of public education defined by French philosopher Victor Cousin is to allow a developing mind to be open to an eclectic knowledge. For the adult to become responsible, the child must remain under tutelage.

As much as the state must let adult citizens live their lives, it has all its role to play to socially and intellectually emancipate minors, including through constraint. This is why, as someone who doesn't like prohibitions, I plead without hesitation for the closure of social media to people under 16.

According to a report, "the higher the level of education of the child's representative, the less time spent in front of a screen" — Photo: Tim Mossholder

The age of 16 is the logical age

The sale of alcohol to minors is well prohibited. In the case of the legalization of cannabis, which is dear to me, it will be necessary to strictly protect teenagers, whose maturing brains can be irreparably damaged by this psychotropic substance. It is time for the legislator to put social networks in the same category. Sixteen is the logical age to be the legal threshold to enter the shady world of disinformation.

Because social media platforms are not simple neutral and benevolent intermediaries. Their business model, based on the harvesting and monetization of personal data, requires optimizing the "engagement" of their users, a polite word for addiction.

Jaron Lanier, an internet pioneer, denounced these "siren servers" from the inside. The best neuroscientists, hired at great expense by the platforms, are working to titillate the reward circuits of our brains. Social media must be treated for what it is: a drug distributed after school, free of charge.

I stopped using Twitter and coffee together.

Three years ago, during a research trip to Silicon Valley, I realized I myself was addicted to social media, so I stopped using Twitter and coffee together. I gained self-control, a condition of freedom. And I only resumed in very small doses (LinkedIn from time to time, a cup of macchiato in the morning). Today, I don't allow my daughter to drink caffeine or surf TikTok. She has to make do with a minimalist phone, without access to the internet.

Because she does not have an online presence, my daughter is mechanically spared from harassment. This is a privilege she shares with her classmates from the most privileged working-class. In fact, according to a report from the High Council of Public Health published last year, "the higher the level of education of the child's representative, the less time spent in front of a screen."

Children from working-class backgrounds are more often left to their own devices in front of the screens, while more educated parents deploy various strategies of restriction — let's remember that Steve Jobs banned the iPad from his home. With that in mind, banning social networks for children under 16 would also be a true act of social justice.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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