TN Attorney General Skrmetti Leading a 50 State Coalition Looking at Social Media Impact on Kids, Will Hold Town Halls Around the State to Hear from Families

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti in studio to talk about his upcoming townhalls which will allow families to speak about the mental harm done to their kids through social media platforms.

Leahy: In studio, the original all-star panelist, Crom Carmichael. And we are delighted to have in our studio once again, the attorney general of the state of Tennessee, Jonathan Skrmetti. And let me just say this, you’re doing a fabulous job. I mean, this is my personal view. I think you’re the best attorney general in the country, and there are 49 others, but I think you’re doing a great job, so keep it up.

Skrmetti: Thank you.

Leahy: You are doing something also quite innovative. I don’t know if an attorney general in the state of Tennessee has ever done this. You’re going to be holding some town halls. March the 2nd in Clarksville, March the 9th in West Tennessee, and March the 27th in Chattanooga. What’s the topic of the town hall meetings, who can attend, and why are you doing it?

Skrmetti: The town hall meetings are part of an investigation we’re doing on the effects of social media on kids and the mental health impact of social media on teenagers specifically. And we’ve seen just horrific evidence of the mental health problems that have been driven here. Social media is not all bad…. And we have been looking hard at this with every other state.

There’s a 50-state coalition led by me and the Colorado Attorney General looking at the impact of social media on kids. And we are doing the town halls because we need witnesses. We are putting together our case. We’ve got a lot of experts across psychology and education technology, but we need stories from people who have been impacted by this.

And we think doing the town halls and getting out there, giving people an opportunity to come and tell their stories is a great way to get our case improved. We need to find people who can put a human face on the impact of social media on their families.

Leahy: My sense is that you can go to any family in the country and they have stories. Crom, do you want to add something?

Carmichael: I’m curious about the way you’re approaching this from the standpoint, it seems to me there are at least two very large ways of looking at it. One is how social media platforms are used by other teenagers, perhaps to bully their fellow teenagers. And that would be, to me, that’s inherently destructive.

I’m curious what you think the social media platforms themselves could do about that, and then whether or not there are more specific things that the platforms are doing that are harmful to our youth.

Skrmetti: We’re really focused on the platform activity here. You’re looking at products that have been refined and refined and refined to be as addictive as possible. And the companies have done extensive research to figure out how to make it hard for people to stop using their products. And they know exactly who their customers are better than any company in the history of the world. These companies have incredible amounts of data.

So when they’re looking at younger people, they know that they’re looking at younger people. And kids are more vulnerable than adults in so many ways. They don’t have the defense mechanisms developed. And so the addiction hits them harder at a time in their life when they’re still kids.

They’re still learning all sorts of fundamental things about interacting with other people. And the addiction and the psychological pressure that arises as a result of these companies trying to drive engagement is having real harm on these kids.

Leahy: You and the attorney general of Colorado have put together a 50-state coalition. You’re gathering information, I assume. At some point, do you anticipate litigation against some of these social media companies and what would that litigation be and what would the remedy be?

Skrmetti: Litigation is a distinct possibility. Now, the one thing is these companies are run by people. People have kids. And at the end of the day, the incentives there for them to make money have driven them to this point. They’ve made a lot of money. They’re going to keep making a lot of money.

There’s nothing wrong with making money. I’m hoping that people who are in positions of power at these companies recognize that the harm is significant and don’t want to do that. They can do plenty well without keeping the pedal to the metal, driving engagement to the maximum possible point, and causing a significant amount of harm on the way.

So hopefully, we’ll get some reasonable resolutions here. People will agree to do the things we need them to do and what we need them to do. This isn’t a cash grab. The point is to get them to stop hurting kids. All we want is for them to stop doing the things that are causing psychological harm to children.

Leahy: When do you anticipate that you’ll have a first communication to you’re talking about Facebook, I guess, and Twitter and GETTR and Google and all those folks? When do you anticipate your first set of recommendations will be made to them?

Skrmetti: I don’t want to put a hard date on it, but sooner rather than later.

Leahy: Good. And so it sounds to me like you’re taking the soft approach first, but you always have the stronger approach of litigation next. Is that right?

Skrmetti: Absolutely. We want to raise awareness of the issue, and we want to gather evidence.

Leahy: Now I read in the paper all the time all these legal issues out there, and you’re probably aware of them as well. You don’t necessarily always comment on particular legal issues, but I get the sense that there may be something out there.

If I see something or if our listeners see something, that’s troubling in the legal arena, my guess is that you might be looking at some of these things. What are you doing behind the scenes?

Skrmetti: My dad was in the Navy, and he was on submarines, and the submarines used to go out, and they’d be at sea for months and months and months. And people would know that they went out to sea and nobody would know what they were doing out there until they popped up. And sometimes my office has to do things like that.

There are situations where people are very concerned and investigations have to happen. Facts have to be gathered, and that has to be done privately, in part to protect the innocent. Sometimes we investigate things, and it turns out that there’s nothing there or that there is something there but it’s not illegal.

Other times, we need to put our case together to make sure when we come out it is very clear that there has been a violation and there is evidence. Silence is not an indicator except that we are being quiet.

But I have 180 attorneys working very hard on a variety of issues for Tennessee, and I’ve got a great team. Sometimes they work for a long time without anybody knowing what they are doing.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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