Zuckerberg, et al: The worst of the worst

Last week’s dramatic hearing in the U.S. Senate, in which the heads of a number of social media companies testified in front of a gallery that was filled with parents who lost children because of the pernicious effects of social media companies, hopefully will result in meaningful regulation that will hold these social media companies accountable for their deliberate targeting of our nation’s youth with content that the companies know is harmful.

Arguably the worst offender among the group, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, apologized to the parents sitting behind him and weakly told them he would try to do better.  However, as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham bluntly put it directly to Zuckerberg, “You have blood on your hands.”

Two years ago the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook was fully aware of the addictive and harmful qualities of its social media platforms and the specific damage that they cause to vulnerable young people. Yet Facebook has done nothing to ameliorate its behavior because of the billions of dollars it earns by targeting children with content that they know is dangerous for our childrens’ mental — and ultimately physical — well-being.

One of the most telling pieces of testimony came from the head of Tik-Tok, who was asked whether he allows his own children on the Tik-Tok platform. He replied that he doesn’t — because his family resides in Singapore, where Tik-Tok is not allowed to be used by children. However, as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar pointed out, here in the United States there are no limits placed on social media companies because of the millions of dollars that they spend to lobby members of Congress.

The very next day after the Senate hearing, the stock of Facebook (which is now known as Meta) jumped by a whopping 20% after it announced record earnings, increasing the company’s value by hundreds of billions of dollars. 

If we were to list the worst kind of people in the world, they would include murderers, rapists, child molesters, and drug dealers. But in this era of pervasive social media, we now can add a new type of sociopath — the heads of social media companies that deliberately prey upon our children, whom they view as nothing more than a profit-center for their businesses.

A new book by Boston native Frank McCourt, a billionaire real estate mogul and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, makes the case for regulating social media companies because of the threat they pose to our children and our democracy. His central thesis is that we need to do so now before it is too late.

We call upon our national legislators, especially Senators Warren and Markey,  to support the bill in the Senate that will allow these social media companies to be sued by those whom they harm. As Senator Graham pointed out, the social media companies have refused to police themselves and the only way to do so is to “open the courtroom doors” to their victims.    

….And those on-line sports betting companies are not far behind….

A while back we wrote an editorial about the clear and obvious evils of the easy availability of sports gambling via smartphones. This past Sunday evening, the news program 60 Minutes had a segment on exactly that topic, highlighting how young men under the age of 25 have become addicted to on-line sports gambling, where they can place a bet not only on the outcome of a game, but also literally wager on every play, pitch, and moment across the international sporting world, simply with the push of a button on their smartphones at all hours of  the day and night.

The report noted that many young men have gambled away their college loan money and their inheritances because of their addiction to these so-called sports books. The advertising for these gaming sites, such as Draft Kings and FanDuel, pitched by high-profile celebrities, makes it look like harmless fun. But as 60 Minutes noted, the reality is far darker. 

We have no problem with sports betting when it is done at a casino or similar venue. However, allowing it to happen via a smartphone invites addictive behavior, especially by young people, that can lead them to financial ruin and a lifetime of gambling addiction. 

In our view, it is clear that the companies such as Draft Kings, FanDuel, and others are nothing less than predatory monsters that seek to take advantage of vulnerable young people.

Just as our state legislature realized two generations ago that lowering the drinking age to 18 was a societal disaster, we call upon our state legislators to revise the laws that allow these sports betting houses to prey on vulnerable individuals 24/7/365.

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