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Should We Rethink Our Relationship With Social Media?

Sunday, April 30th, 2023

This week’s core story is about: Rethinking social media.


Russian airstrikes on multiple Ukrainian cities Friday killed at least 25 people. The barrage of missile strikes is the largest wave of Russian airstrikes in almost two months and the first attack on Kyiv since March. The attacks also come as Ukraine prepares for a highly anticipated spring counter-offensive.

Fox News dropped primetime host Tucker Carlson. Right-wing weirdos and Russian state media lamented the “loss” of Carlson and his totally normal laugh, with one prominent Russian state television anchor saying the U.S. had “lost its last remaining voice of reason.”

Chief Justice John Roberts declined an invitation to testify at the upcoming Senate hearing about the Supreme Court’s ethical standards. The invitation and hearing come after a ProPublica investigation earlier this month revealed significant trips and gifts GOP billionaire megadonor and guy who collects Hitler stuff for funsies, Harlan Crow, gave to Justice Clarence Thomas that Thomas failed to disclose.

Disney sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials, accusing DeSantis of carrying out a “campaign of government retaliation” against the company and violating its speech rights. Disney brought the lawsuit after DeSantis’s hand-picked oversight board voted to invalidate an agreement Disney made shortly before the DeSantis board took over, and is the latest blow in the ongoing DeSantis-Disney drama over control of the special district where Walt Disney World is located.

Should We Rethink Our Relationship With Social Media?

Social media apps on an iPhone


Lawmakers have begun taking aim at social media companies with bills limiting how children can use their apps, and, while implementation could be a nightmare, legislators’ sentiment seems to be in the right place. So, what does the research say about our relationship with social media?

What’s happening:

A bipartisan group of Senators on Wednesday unveiled the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, proposing a national minimum age of 13 to use social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Children aged 13 to 17 would need parental consent under the proposed bill.

The bill comes about a month after Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a pair of laws making his state the first to target children’s use of social media. The laws require parental consent before kids under 18 can sign up for social media apps and prohibit children from using social media between 10:30 pm and 6:30 am.

Arkansas Governor and person who definitely nods approvingly when Will Smith kills his dog in I Am Legend, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, followed Utah’s lead by signing into law a similar bill requiring parental consent for Arkansans under 18 to use social media (though the bill also contains some weird exemptions).

Implementation of the three bills as they stand today seems like they’ll each be their own brand of nightmare scenario, requiring different methods for social media companies to verify a user’s age, but they all appear to be earnestly trying to combat the mental health crisis currently gripping young Americans.

In February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, finding 42% of U.S. high school students in 2021 reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. The findings were especially bad among girls, with 57% reporting feeling persistently sad or hopeless and 30% seriously considering suicide. Nearly a quarter (24%) of girls went so far as to make a suicide plan. For comparison, 29% of boys reported feeling sad or hopeless, while 14% considered suicide and 12% made a plan.

So, is the teen mental health crisis tied to social media? And should all of us – not just teens – rethink our relationship with the technology? Let’s dive in.

What the research says:

American psychologist and author Jean Twenge has been sounding the alarm about the impact of smartphones and social media on youth mental health since 2017, when she first went public with her hypothesis that the alarming increase in rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness among young people since 2010 coincided with the era’s massive rise in smartphone and social media use.

One of the problems Twenge ran into when she debuted her hypothesis was a lack of data, since the issue hadn’t truly been studied to that point. Fast-forward six years and the science has finally caught up.

Several studies have come out in recent years offering important insights into the relationship between screen time and mental health, including a 2022 review that found smartphone and social media use among teens is associated with an increase in mental distress, self-harming behaviors, and suicidality.

Three studies this year have also made helpful findings:

In February, the American Psychological Association published a study finding teens and young adults who reduced their social media use by 50% for three weeks saw a “significant improvement” in how they felt about their body weight and overall physical appearance.

In March, researchers at Yale published a study analyzing the screen media activity of over 5,000 9- and 10-year-olds, finding the ones who had the most screen time were more likely to have higher levels of internalizing problems, like depression and anxiety, two years later.

And just this week, researchers at Florida Atlantic University released data showing suicide rates among 13- and 14-year-olds more than doubled between 2008 and 2018, a period coinciding with the rise of several prominent social media apps. The finding is all the more alarming as it bucks the trend of significant declines in suicide mortality among the age group from 1999 to 2007.

Why it matters:

While social media has plenty of positive aspects and calling for the technology’s end would be futile (and dumb), the research begs the question I conveniently posited myself in the headline of this post: Is it time we rethink our relationship with social media?

When it comes to children and young adults, it seems especially clear that reducing smartphone and social media time is good for mental health, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see governments and health associations publish more targeted recommendations in the future (in January, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said 13-year-olds are too young to be on social media). But the truth is that kids are and will continue to be on social media, so it can’t only be about getting them to spend less time on the apps, it also has to be about improving their media literacy so they can handle what they see when they are.

It’s not just children, while the effects of social media on adult mental health haven’t been studied as extensively, research shows excessive screen time can impair sleep and worsen mental health. And, while I don’t have research to back this exact notion, I feel fairly confident believing that if adults had stronger media literacy skills, fewer of our crazy aunts and uncles would have fallen for nonsense stories like kids identifying as cats and the idea that sun tanning your a**hole has health benefits.

As to what to expect going forward, it remains to be seen how much support the federal bipartisan bill will get, and we’ll see if more governments take aim at social media companies in different ways (the Seattle school district filed a novel lawsuit against social media companies in January for their alleged role in the teen mental health crisis).

In the meantime, all of us can rethink how much we use our smartphones and consume social media, and we’d all benefit from learning that no matter how realistic a picture may look, the Pope wouldn’t wear a big white puffer jacket when he’s cold (Popes wear these funny little Santa beanies called camauros instead).


Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville looking dumb


Sen. Tommy Tuberville Is Still Blocking Military Promotions

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R), who had a 7-6 record in bowl games as a college head football coach and never won a national title while Nick Saban has gone 19-11 in bowl games and won seven national titles, continued his stalling of military promotions this past week, blocking 184 in his ongoing quest over whatever point he thinks he’s making.

  • Tuberville, who went 4-8 in his final year as a head coach while Nick Saban went 11-2 last year and has never had a record worse than 6-6, claimed months ago that he was blocking the promotions over a new Pentagon policy providing leave and covering some travel expenses for service members who get abortions, but has now switched his purported reasoning to a new belief that the military has too many generals and admirals.

  • When asked about the blockade by Tuberville, who only won more than 10 games twice in his 21-year coaching career while Nick Saban has won more than 10 games in each season since 2008, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “This political showmanship could have a serious impact on our military readiness, on our military forces, and our national security.”


First Republic Bank logo


The FDIC Is Scrambling to Complete a Sale of First Republic Bank

Federal bank regulators asked large banks to deliver their best and final takeover offers for troubled lender First Republic Bank by Sunday afternoon, with JPMorgan Chase emerging as the top contender as of Saturday evening.

  • The First Republic drama stems from the high-profile failure of its neighbor Silicon Valley Bank in March, with First Republic facing a similar crisis of confidence among depositors who rushed to pull their money from the bank this past week.

  • Regulators hope to complete a sale by Sunday evening that would see the federal government take on at least some of the bank’s troubled assets or provide other guarantees to make the purchase less risky.


Peter Thiel


Peter Thiel Won’t Donate to GOP Candidates This Cycle

Republican megadonor and otherwise weird little fella Peter Thiel has reportedly told business associates that he won’t donate to political candidates in 2024, citing Republicans’ unpopular positions on issues like abortion and transgender rights.

  • Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, reportedly told associates he believes Republican politicians are too focused on culture issues and should be more concerned with countering China and encouraging U.S. business innovation.

  • Thiel was an early supporter of former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign (he didn’t support Trump’s reelection) and spent $35 million on elections in 2022, including $20 million on the failed campaign of GOP Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and $10 million on the successful campaign of Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance.


Americans Want Gun Control

A new survey by Fox News shows registered voters in the U.S. overwhelmingly approve of gun control legislation as a means to reduce gun violence, including broad support for laws requiring background checks for gun purchases (87% support such proposals), raising the legal age to buy guns to 21 (81%), requiring mental health checks for gun buyers (80%), allowing police to take guns from people considered to be a danger to themselves or others (80%), and mandating a 30-day waiting period on all gun purchases (77%).

  • The survey also found 61% of voters support banning assault weapons as a way to reduce gun violence, compared to 45% who support arming more citizens.

  • The Fox News poll was released the day after a new analysis by researchers at Columbia University found gun deaths rates over the past decade have been consistently higher in rural counties than in large cities, mostly due to a trend of rising gun suicides in rural areas.

MAGA-ism Is Really Unpopular

A new survey by NBC News found just 24% of U.S. adults have a positive view of former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, including only 12% of independents.

  • Even among Republicans, support for the MAGA movement is far from overwhelming, with just 52% viewing the movement positively.

  • Altogether, the survey found MAGA-ism is viewed less positively than the Black Lives Matter movement (38% have a positive view), current President Joe Biden (38%), and both political parties (Democratic party 36%; Republican party 33%).

Small Acts of Kindness Are More Frequent and Universal Than You May Think

A new study by an international team of researchers found, across cultures, humans signal a need for help, like asking someone to pass a utensil or requesting assistance with another small task, about once every two minutes, and that people comply with such requests seven times more often than they decline them and six times more often than they ignore them.

  • The team analyzed video recordings of daily life in diverse international cities and rural areas, finding that while people complied with requests for help without explanation, 74% of the time they declined, they gave an explicit reason for doing so, suggesting that while people only decline helping for a good reason, they otherwise give help unconditionally.

  • The researchers say the findings suggest helpfulness “is an ingrained reflex in the human species” (unless you’re an American child afraid of getting shot at school, then there’s apparently nothing we can do).


  • 65% - The percentage of U.S. adults who say access to the abortion pill mifepristone should be legal, including 46% of conservatives and 44% of white evangelicals, according to a new survey by Fox News. Just 30% say the abortion pill should be illegal.

  • 24.4% - The percentage of U.S. high school students in 2021 who identified as LGBTQ+, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • 3.5 acres - The size of the fire ignited by the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy launch and mid-air explosion last week, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The launch spread debris over 385 acres and included “numerous large concrete chunks, stainless steel sheets, metal, and other objects hurled thousands of feet away along with a plume cloud of pulverized concrete,” according to the agency.

  • 1 million - The number of vape kits the U.K. government will give out to smokers to encourage them to swap their traditional cigarettes for an electronic one (a.k.a., an “e-cigarette”) in an attempt to eventually get them to quit altogether. The government says the so-called “swap to stop” scheme is the first of its kind and will also offer behavioral (spelled “behavioural” because they talk funny) support and financial incentives.


Long Video. The history and genius design of Apple’s Cupertino HQ. (18 min)

Short Video. How did South Koreans get so much taller? (6 min)

Fun Video. How LEGO used content and licensing to become the world’s largest toy maker. (6 min)

Good Read. California is named after a Black warrior queen. (1,209 words; 6 min)

Neat List. These are the seven cities you have to visit before dying, according to 50 travel experts.


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Written by Ryan Wittler