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Zuckerberg & pals bank on addicting kids just like tobacco company executives did
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Remember the good old days?

School classes were disrupted by physical note passing.

Bullying was mostly confined to the playground at recess as well as walking to and from school.

And bullies actually had to confront their victims face-to-face to inflict pain.

It was before the world heard of Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies.

You know the ones.

They parrot the same self-serving mantras.

Social media and the Internet will make the world a better place.

Social media and the Internet will bring us closer together.

Social media and the Internet will reduce hate, racism.

Social media and the Internet will accelerate the absorption of knowledge and plant the seeds of understanding.

Social media will cure acne.

Blah, blah, blah . . .

That is why they argue the wholesale disruption of societal norms should be allowed without question or regulation.

And — to top it all off — they act all pious about how it has had nothing to do with money.

Of course, they only do that after they’ve accumulated enough money to crush or buy out the competition.

And who said Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and their ilk weren’t old school?

It’s the playbook that Andrew Carnegie, the Rockefellers, and the rest of their robber baron buddies wrote right down to “giving” their fortune away after essentially being given a license by the government to destroy other businesses to become immensely rich.

The tide may be turning.

Last month, California and Colorado took the lead in a lawsuit filed by 33 states against Zuckerberg and his creation dubbed Meta.

Specifically, it’s for the tech versions of Frankenstein as well as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Zuckerberg has fostered in the form of Facebook and Instagram.

The lawsuit states Meta has “designed psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended use” of platforms like Instagram.

It further contends the company’s algorithms were designed to push children and teenagers “into rabbit holes of toxic and harmful content” with features like “infinite scroll” and persistent alerts used to hook young users.

There are other nuances as well addressed in the lawsuit.

Among them is the contention Meta has systemically violated federal children’s online privacy law by unlawfully collecting “the personal data of its youngest users” without their parents’ permission.

“Meta ,” language in the lawsuit states, “has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens. Its motive is profit.”

Meta, of course, uses the Joe Camel defense of the tobacco industry.

They were not knowingly targeting kids.

The pervasiveness of social media isn’t exactly breaking news.

That said, the slow train wreck started in the pandemic closures forcing young people to go further down the rabbit’s hole is starting to become abundantly clear in many school districts.

Manteca Unified — like all districts — has issues.

Cell phone use in the classrooms is up to the discretion of teachers.

The district blocks social media on district Wi-Fi.

Still there are problems.

That said, it has not progressed to the point it has in some school districts.

Orange County Public Schools in Florida is the nation’s eighth largest school system,

District educators note a large number of students became more immersed in smartphones during the pandemic and haven’t retreated with the return to in-person learning.

*Students rarely made eye contact when they walked down school hallways.

*Some were covertly videoing others during class and posting them on social media apps.

*Teens were texting each other in  class to arrange to meet in bathrooms to make dance videos.

*Faculty was dealing more and more with bullying issues involving students posting, or trying to record, things that went on during school time.

In other words, social media obsession during school was undermining efforts to teach students.

Phone use in class was banned.

But it wasn’t enough.

Students were still using recess, lunch, and time between classes to use their smartphones to bully other students.

In response to the continued bullying, Orange County instituted a complete ban on students from using cellphones during the entire school day from the time they stepped on campus until they left.

On the first day, more than  100 phones  were confiscated.

After that, the taking of smartphones from violators and locking  them up in the office until the end of school has dropped drastically.

Based on feedback from teachers and teachers:

*Phone-related bullying of students has fallen.

*Students are more engaged in class.

*Classroom distractions have been reduced.

*Eye contact has increased between teachers and students as teens are no longer burying their faces in phones.

*At lunch students are interacting, playing pickup ball, games, or chatting instead of being glued to their phones.

There are perceived drawbacks.

Some students have said they don’t feel as safe as they can’t text a parent immediately if they need help or a safety issue has arisen.

They also saw it is tough to communicate with parents about ride arrangements and such.

The district notes if student needs to use a phone to contact a parent, they can do what was done for generations — ask to go to the office and call them from there. The only twist is they have to ask permission to use their own phone.

Nor are students wild about the increased surveillance to enforce the ban.

In Orange County schools, that includes a security officer periodically monitoring security camera feeds for students using cellphones in hallways and other spaces.

Repeat violators can be suspended.

Students say there are downsides that impact their education.

They can no longer check their class schedules during school or take photos of their projects in art class using their personal phones.

That said, students in districts that supply devices can use them to do that.

Orange County schools’ ban — and others like them — likely will have limited success at upending the academic and social norms of a generation reared on smartphones.

What could, however, have great success  is California and 32 other states fare at combating social media companies’ unwritten business plan to addict students to their devices in the same-self-serving reason that tobacco firms did with smoking — to line their pockets with even more profits.