When it comes to internet use and social media, the last couple of years have been the best of times and the worst of times. While it’s hard to have a nuanced debate, that’s just what the discussion of social media requires (so it’s probably best not to debate social media on social media). I’ll use my own daughter as an example (she’s not a subscriber, so she’ll never know…). Covid came for the key years of her adolescent development. On one hand, during quarantine, social media provided her with a critical connection with her friends with whom she could no longer interact. On the other hand, her social media use has clearly gotten out of hand. And that worries me because I can see the negative impacts with my own eyes. And studies that suggest there’s no downside to social media use, especially among teen girls, don’t sway me one bit. Fortunately, they didn’t sway Jean Twenge, Jonathan Haidt, and Kevin Cummins either. They took a closer look at a recent study suggesting that social media is relatively harmless for teen girls and found it was off the mark because it conflated screen time with social media. From WaPo (Gift Article): Social media is riskier for kids than screen time: “The paper’s definition of ‘screen time’ included watching TV or simply owning a computer as well as healthy social interaction such as talking with friends on the phone. It also included social media, known for being more performative and toxic. Does the story change when we limit the analysis to social media, which is where teenagers gather most often? It does, enormously. In a new paper, we used the same advanced statistical technique and found that the link between social media use and poor mental health for girls was 10 times as large as what the Oxford paper identified for ‘screen time.’ A recent paper by two Spanish statisticians also examined the Oxford researchers’ techniques and also found a much stronger link. These findings fit with Facebook’s internal research, leaked by a whistleblower and published last fall, which concluded that Instagram led to depression and body image issues, particularly among teenage girls.”

The internet is not one thing. And our policies around it can’t be shoehorned to fit every scenario. When my daughter is Facetiming, group chatting, or on calls with friends, it’s probably pretty positive developmentally, while her addiction to TikTok and use of Instagram is likely harmful. Of course, I rarely know which set of internet tools she’s using, because she doesn’t want me anywhere near her social life, even virtually, and because I’m so addicted to Twitter, I really don’t have all that much free time to parent, anyway.

+ “In early 2020 Ava noticed that one fan, EricJustin111, was trying to get her attention in comments on TikTok … Early on July 10, the fan — Eric Rohan Justin, 18, of Ellicott City, Md. — arrived with a shotgun at the Majury family home in Naples and blew open the front door. His weapon jammed; Ava’s father, Rob Majury, a retired police lieutenant, chased him off but fell. Mr. Majury told Collier County sheriff’s officers that he returned to the house, retrieved his handgun and stood guard at the front door, only to see the gunman return a short time later. By sunrise Mr. Justin lay dying, shot by Mr. Majury.” NYT (Gift Article): A Child’s TikTok Stardom Opens Doors. Then a Gunman Arrives. I’m not sharing this story because I think violence like this is a common outcome of social media use. It’s just a really interesting read (particularly for any dudes on my daughter’s TikTok who are thinking of dropping by…)