This past Friday, I was leaving the office to head home when I glanced down at my phone to see an email pop up in my inbox. The subject line: "Scary law that could very likely pass."
Standing outside my building with the rush of New York City traffic barreling in front of me and holiday lights illuminating the streets, I could feel my eyebrows furrow in confusion as I learned that European lawmakers are considering an amendment of the European Data Protection Regulation that would ban teens under the age of 16 from using social media without parental consent. I immediately had three thoughts:
1. How did I not know about this?
2. Who were the "experts" consulted in drafting this amendment?
3. This is completely insane.
This policy isn’t protecting teens. It’s silencing their voices and for many, is directly depriving them from support systems and life-saving resources. The prospect of this regulation becoming a reality terrifies me -- and it should scare the sh-t out of you, too.
Telling teens that they can’t use social media is akin to telling millennials they can’t use dating apps like Tinder to meet people. It’s entirely tone-deaf and embarrassingly out of touch, as can be seen from the dozens of young people who took to Twitter to express their concern:
But more importantly, as tech journalist and CEO of ConnectSafely.org Larry Magid points out, “I worry that it could actually endanger and disenfranchise young people at the very time when we should be doubling down on their engagement in social media and world events.” Magid couldn’t be more correct with his concerns.
Millions of teens rely on social media as a means of community and information. They can find answers and support on the Internet that they’re not getting from their parents or inside their high school classrooms. Because of technology, teens are statistically less lonely than ever before. This is especially crucial for LGBTQ, suicidal and abused teens. Cutting them off from the apps and platforms that they turn to during their most vulnerable moments is deeply troubling and could have dangerous implications. To echo YouTuber and activist Raymond Braun, I can’t help but think of LGBTQ teens who aren't out to their parents yet, and would be further isolated because they couldn’t access social media.
Before any finalization takes place, this amendment desperately needs to be reevaluated and met with the appropriate level of scrutiny. There needs to be a conversation and it needs to happen now. In the words of Janice Richardson, expert to ITU and the Council of Europe and former coordinator of European Safer Internet network in Luxembourg, "Either the negotiators should re-open the debate in order that experts like ourselves, but also parent organisation, educators and young people themselves, can participate, or they should revert to the previously agreed age of 13." With the potential for so many young people to be unfairly impacted by this amendment, I implore you to speak up. Get upset. Tweet about it. Make some noise.
Adults, policymakers and media frequently project the idea that social media is harmful. But the truth is, it’s nowhere near as harmful as the consequences of stripping it away from the individuals who depend on it most.
To sign a petition to encourage European policymakers to rethink their decision, head over to Change.org.