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Teen attorneys are urging users to log out in order to achieve technology reform

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Members of the generation shaped by the rise of social media are now pressing for Congress to tackle the dangers to young users on the Internet.

Anger over the social media giants reaches a boiling point on Capitol Hill as lawmakers call for action from Facebook’s own Instagram after a bombshell reported detailed internal investigations into how the platform is damaging teenage mental health.

With congressional increasing scrutiny, Emma Lembke, the 19-year-old behind two youth-led advocacy groups, says lawmakers must reach out to Generation Z for input on regulation.

“We want to change this narrative introduced by older members of other generations that teenagers are passive victims who are only hurt and constantly hit by social media with no way to fix the situation. That’s absolutely not the situation, ”Lembke said in an interview with The Hill.

“Although we cannot hold seats in the Senate, we can influence these decisions. We have the power and teenagers have the ability to use their own stories and their voices to drive change, ”she added.

Lembke is the founder and CEO of the unsubscribe movement. The aim of the advocacy group is to create a space for young people to discuss the damage caused by social media and to provide resources to reduce its use.

The Washington University student recently started Tech (nically Politics). The new effort focuses on political advocacy, with organizers collecting stories from teenagers to share with lawmakers.

“The second I created Log Off and it started, I could see the need to have this regular regulatory piece in the puzzle,” said Lembke.

Lembke said youth across the country are invited to share their stories and the new organization is trying to connect with lawmakers to put youth at the center of the reform talk.

The impact of social media on young Americans has been a rare unifying topic in Congress. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have urged Facebook to drop plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. The company announced Monday it would suspend efforts after a severe setback, but critics want the platform to finally abandon the plan.

During a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing last week on privacy, Democrats and Republicans grilled a Facebook executive over the Wall Street Journal’s report on Instagram and teen mental health that sparked much of the legislature’s backlash.

Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s vice president of privacy and public order, sidestepped issues he said were outside of his direct jurisdiction, but the fiery session resulted in a Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the impact of the photo -Sharing app on teenagers Mental health will be the focus. Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis is due to testify at the hearing.

Despite Instagram taking the brunt of the recent criticism, Log Off organizers said Congress needs to take a closer look at the impact social media has on teens – including a closer look at TikTok and its growing popularity with young users.

“[Facebook and Instagram have] Done a lot of things to get the attention of policymakers but I think it would be a missed opportunity not to include big industry players who are also working in other ways in the social media landscape to negatively affect children and manipulate them, ”said Lembke.

Celine Bernhardt-Lanier, the 17-year-old who has taken on Lembke as the CEO of Log Off, said she decided to stay away from TikTok entirely after seeing the app’s addictive nature on her friends.

“I see that it affects my generation. I have a friend at school who uses TikTok seven hours a day. And with this knowledge, I just don’t even want to be in this app, ”said Bernhardt-Lanier.

“I have a strong feeling that we need time well invested, and Instagram is not doing that for me. I try to use social media as little as possible, ”she added.

Although Bernhardt-Lanier said she set limits on her social media use, she admits that some days she will scroll longer than she intended. Log Off provides teenagers with resources and a space to discuss how to set these barriers for themselves.

For example, the organization offers a Digital Detox Challenge that ranges from three to 21 days and encourages participants to reduce their daily screen time by 50 percent.

“I think we just lack realizing how our devices affect us,” especially given the invisible technology that powers the platforms, said Bernhardt-Lanier.

“It’s so hard to fight the pull, and the science behind it alone is so much stronger than your willingness to stop. It’s a tough process because I know there are teenagers out there who want to have these deep conversations and be vulnerable. But I also know that it’s very scary and uncomfortable, and there’s this stigma about talking about social media and technology and how we interact on those platforms, ”she added.

The way in which social media platforms are designed cannot just rest on the shoulders of users – especially vulnerable young people – and this is where youth advocates believe that regulations need to be introduced.

“[It’s] It’s almost impossible to articulate to someone who didn’t grow up with social media as part of their childhood how important it can be and how this medium of self-expression can be. But that is not possible with current algorithms, ”said Lembke. “And I think it works to find out: How can we make apps more human? How can we really research the regulation of these companies in order to reclaim social media as a tool instead of this addicting part of our lives? “

There are no immediate plans for Lembke or Bernhardt-Lanier to testify before Congress, but youth organizers say it would be beneficial for lawmakers to listen to the generation most affected by the platforms and possible reforms.

“Legislators really have to look up to young people because the voice of young people and youth activism are so important because these devices affect us the most,” said Bernhardt-Lanier.

Lembke said suggestions like Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyWarren, Bush Offer Bill To Give HHS The Authority To Impose An Eviction Moratorium Overnight Energy & Environment – Presented By Climate Power – Senate Democrats Thing Biden Energy Proposal Six Democrats Blow Up Energy Department’s Uranium Reserve Pitch MORE‘s (D-Mass.) KIDS Act, which he plans to reintroduce this year, is a good start. The legislation would regulate the design functions of platforms, including banning “auto-play” functions, and target manipulative online marketing by banning websites from recommending videos with influencer marketing for children and teenagers.

Lembke also said policymakers should turn to the UK for regulatory guidance, which has introduced stricter privacy rules under its new Age Appropriate Design Code.

“It is extremely important that this be viewed from a public health perspective in the political landscape. It’s not just like, ‘Break Big Tech, get behind these huge companies.’ This is a psychological crisis. Children are hurt, ”said Lembke.

“There are so many things that happen to teenagers that they caused this public health crisis. I think it will be crucial to shift the talks in the political landscape so that they really focus on that, ”she added.

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