The Surgeon General Is Pushing for a Misguided Social Media Policy

2 weeks ago 24

This week, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a long-overdue message warning Americans what they already know: Social media is harming kids. But looking through the 19-page advisory, the surgeon general’s solutions appear potentially more dangerous than these pariah platforms themselves. He is pushing for a critically misguided policy that many state legislatures and regulators have already enacted, a mistake that threatens to undo what little internet privacy we have left. To protect kids from social media, he argues, platforms and lawmakers must enforce age minimums. This is tantamount to requiring ID to go online.

Thirty years ago this July, an iconic New Yorker cartoon quipped that “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It was a wry commentary on the then novel anonymity that seemed to define digital spaces. Online, you could create a construct, someone who navigated the internet as you wanted to be seen, not as you truly were. Of course, modern social media often provides a fraction of the invisibility that users once found on early text-based bulletin board services, but there are countless online communities where anonymity not only persists but is indispensable.

Anonymity is what has allowed so many of us, including teens, to build connections and find community, especially when living in places where in-person support is hard to find. It’s a lifeline for LQBTQ kids facing homophobia, who fear homelessness or violence if their parents learn who they are. It can create a safe way for undocumented individuals and those formerly incarcerated to have a social life even as they fear retribution from law enforcement. And digital platforms are increasingly the only ways for pregnant people in antiabortion states to figure out how to get the care they need, whether through the mail or by traveling across state lines. For more and more Americans, secur...

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