When a young, accomplished, highly educated beauty queen — a literal beauty queen — takes her life over cyberbullying, it’s time we treat Big Tech like Big Tobacco: Name it, shame it, sue it, and legislate for public health.
There’s more than enough evidence that social media is toxic by design, that Mark Zuckerberg is a psychopath, that online-induced suicides are regarded as little more than collateral damage.
What else needs to happen? Who else needs to die for Congress to show some teeth?
“We [Instagram] make body issues worse for one in three teenage girls.”
This according to “The Facebook Papers,” an internal trove of documents published by the Wall Street Journal last September.
Everyone knows. Does anyone care?
“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” the papers said. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Zuckerberg to Congress last March: “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits.”
And smoking makes you skinny.
There was a time when cigarettes were advertised on TV. That was banned in 1964, after the surgeon general’s report on smoking.
Where’s our national health report on the dangers of social media?
Oh wait — we already have one, because Facebook secretly commissioned it. And tried to bury it.
The day before 12-year-old Mallory Grossman hanged herself in 2017, she came to her parents in tears, cellphone in hand. She’d never been so upset.
Mallory, described by her mother as “the most all-American little girl,” had been sent photos of herself from classmates.
“Poor Mal. You have no friends,” one caption read
The other: “When are you going to kill yourself?”
Know whose kids aren’t allowed on social media? Mark Zuckerberg’s.
Yet until a few months ago, Zuckerberg was actively developing Instagram Kids, designed for children 13 and under.
This even after Facebook’s internal report found a correlation between the time teenage girls spent on Instagram and suicidal ideations, eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
That same report found that teenagers frequently hate what Instagram does to them.
“They often feel ‘addicted’ and know it is bad for their mental health,” one internal researcher said in the docs, “but feel unable to stop themselves.”
Zuckerberg didn’t take this as cause for alarm but proof of success.
Facebook “took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook,” former director Tim Kendall told Congress last September, “working to make our offering addictive at the outset.”
The average American teenager spends seven to nine hours on screens per day, according to a 2019 study by Common Sense Media — and that doesn’t account for schoolwork.
Selena Gomez was once the most followed Instagram user on the planet. Here’s what she told the New York Times in 2017: “I delete the app from my phone at least once a week. You fixate on the [negative comments]. They’re not like, ‘You’re ugly.’ It’s like they want to cut to your soul. Imagine all the insecurities that you already feel about yourself and having someone write a paragraph pointing out every little thing.”
That’s the agony former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst wrote about last year, online trolls making her feel old — at 30 — and ugly.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted comments on my social media pages that had vomit emojis and insults telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to be Miss USA,” she wrote, “or that my muscular build was actually a ‘man body.’”
Kryst earned a law degree and an MBA at the same time. She worked as a correspondent for “Extra.” She lived in a luxury condo in Midtown Manhattan.
Beauty, brains, ambition, success, friends and family who loved her, stuff to contribute to the world — none of it mitigated Kryst’s online suffering.
Much has been made of technology getting us through the pandemic, and there’s truth to that. But as we grind through Year Three, it’s clear we are more vulnerable to Big Tech than ever. All this spasmodic isolation, this lack of interaction, is coarsening our humanity.
We aren’t fighting one global public health crisis — we’re fighting two. Our brightest minds developed vaccines in less than a year.
So why can’t we protect against Big Tech?