Ideas

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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