Other View: Montana’s law banning TikTok won’t work, but the concern is well-placed
Rather than a patchwork of different laws at the state level, we should have a single, thoughtful set of federal rules that keep kids safe and healthy.
In an anti-China panic, Montana has banned one of the world’s most popular social media apps. That’s plain stupid — but rising concern about social media’s effect on young people is the opposite of stupid.
It’s true that TikTok’s parent company is Chinese, and it’s true that the Chinese Communist government has significant leverage over it. That’s why TikTok is verboten on government devices in the U.S., as well as in the U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
But it verges on hysteria to say, as Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte does, that, “The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented.” What TikTok does with our personal, private and sensitive information is no different from what homegrown social media giants do with it.
Speaking of those homegrown social media giants like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter and countless smaller players, they, just like TikTok, are all vulnerable to credible claims that they’ve played a part in exacerbating depression and other psychological problems.
No doubt, social media has real benefits: young people can stay in touch, learn about things they never imagined, consume endless streams of fun and challenging and enriching cultural offerings. But we’re only beginning to get our arms around its risks in disrupting teens’ sleep, exposing them to bullying, elevating unrealistic body images and magnifying the endless craving for attention and approval that are already endemic to those fragile years.
A federal law passed in 1998, before any of them had taken over our world, makes the age of 13 the official, federally sanctioned gateway to the universe.
Why? No especially good reason. Over the decades, we’ve rethought the age of criminal responsibility, not to mention the age at which people can drink and buy guns and smoke. We don’t need 50 different sets of rules for social media companies to navigate. Rather, while respecting parents’ rights to parent, we should have a single thoughtful set of federal rules that keep kids safe and healthy.
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