We believe that modern technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, are even more powerful than most people realize –
Eric Schmidt, Google, 2014
- There is a preponderance of evidence that social media and smartphone usage seriously damage the mental health of adolescents. Suicide rates among adolescents and young women have skyrocketed from 2007 to 2017.
- Smartphones and social media consumption by adolescents are intertwined. Almost all the social media platforms and smartphones are supplied by the following five Big Tech companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Apple. These five companies have a total market cap of $3.5 Trillion. They are the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world.
- This article shows how these five Big Tech companies use their tremendous influence to suppress information and deter scrutiny of how their products, services, and practices are damaging the health of young people.
This article is a follow up to my pieces Social Media Severely Damages Adolescents’ Health and Suppression of Information and Research on Social Media Damage to Adolescents’ Health, published about a year ago. This article references statistics from 2016-2017, which were not available in the medical studies on which the previous pieces were based.
Social media usage has been heavily linked to adolescents’ mental health damage. This usage comprises mostly of Facebook (including Instagram), Twitter, and Google YouTube. Most social media consumption happens on smartphones. Most of the smartphone usage by adolescents and young people is spent on social media. Thus, social media usage and smartphone usage can be interchangeable for the purposes of this article.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Apple are the five Big Tech companies (the “Big Tech”) discussed in this article. They provide almost all social media platforms, smartphone operating systems and other software infrastructure. Apple also sells iPhones. iPhones have Google as their default search engine. Through the Apple App Store, Apple controls what apps can be used on its devices. Apple has total control over other media use on its devices through Apple News, iTunes Store, iMovie, and Books. Almost all other smartphones are powered by Google Android. Google controls apps and content in its Play Store on Android, although not as tightly as Apple. Google News is the main news aggregator.
Thus, these five Big Tech companies are the providers of the products and services that have been closely linked to a decline in adolescent mental health, as well as the rising suicide rates.
Adolescents’ Suicides Skyrocketed from 2007
Explosive growth usage of social media platforms and smartphones has coincided with suicide epidemics among adolescents and young women. An increase in suicide rates indicates broader social problems, including but not limited to worsening mental health.
Fig. 1. All Adolescents, ages 13-17, 2000-2017
Data Source: https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate.html, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
This graph and other CDC suicide statistics show that suicide rates among adolescents were dropping for long time, reaching an all-time low in 2007. In 2008, adolescent suicide rates started to grow. By 2017, suicide rates among the ages of 13-17 (for both genders) increased by 120% – making them 2.2 times higher than in 2007. The suicide rate increase among girls has been higher than among boys. Suicide rates among 12-14 years girls increased 3.4 times between 2007 and 2017.
Rising Suicide Rates and Big Tech Products
The current suicide rates among adolescents and young women are unprecedented, since before effective anti-depressants were introduced in 1990’s.
In 2007, Apple unveiled the iPhone, which became an instant hit. This led to an astounding increase in Facebook and Twitter use. Explosive rise in the Big Tech products usage was one of the most important changes in society during this time period. A great amount of evidence shows that typical use of the Big Tech products by adolescents is associated with increased mental illness.
In the past, much less evidence of a specific type of product or service causing such significant mental health issues, would have caused a robust public debate, independent research and government investigations. Why are these investigations not currently happening in regard to the staggering increase in suicides in relation to the use of Big Tech products?
One obvious reason for the lack of enforcement is that Facebook, Twitter, and Google distribute news and political information, and have a large impact on public opinion and elections outcomes. Most politicians and elected officials (including state Attorney Generals) prefer to appease Big Tech and to go after traditional targets, such as energy and pharma.
Does Big Tech Influence Media Coverage of Itself?
Of course, it does. Big Tech wields great influence on how social topics are covered by the media and, consequently, perceived by politicians and lawyers. The suicide epidemic is covered by the MSM (including Vox, The Nation, CNN etc.), but sparingly and without enthusiasm. Consider that these Big Tech companies have the power to choose what is elevated to a trend and goes viral, and what gets restricted or even completely disappears from the public eye.
Big Tech’s platforms and services are the communication channels over which any public debate happens. The mainstream media (MSM) depends on the Big Tech for clicks, subscriber acquisition and promotion of their articles. For example, the market value of Google is 175 times that of The New York Times ($843B vs $4.8B on October 11, 2019). Even this valuation of the NYT entirely depends on Google’s promotion of the NYT website and subscription services. There are other behind-the-scenes activities, by which the wealthy Big Tech companies subsidize the powerful but revenue starved MSM. For example, Google News Initiative includes active partnerships with Vox, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, the Poynter Institute, the First Draft Coalition, The Trust Project, Global Editors Network etc. Through this and other similar initiatives, Big Tech companies help fund publications and news organizations, while also requiring them to agree to their Terms and Conditions. These actions increase both the dependence and compliance of media companies to Big Tech companies.
Big Tech Specifically Censors Health Related Information
Google’s August 2018 search ranking update specifically targeted health information. Initially, Google’s aim was to demote web sites with dubious medical information for health-related searches. There are many such websites, publishing incorrect and harmful information, sometimes peddling their own “natural” products for profit. When deciding to de-rank them in the search results, Google executives may not have intended to restrict criticism of their own services. But Google is neither the publisher nor the editor of the information ranked by its search engine. It has neither the capacity nor the permission to decide which health related information is correct and which is incorrect.
There are two consequences to Google’s decision to act as an arbiter of truth on health. First, it suppresses the debate on health-related topics, including the health impact of Google’s own services. Second, some of the sources selected by Google as “authorities” on the subject, are not among the best. This applies to professional societies, that have been corrupted over the last ten years by climate alarmism and other leftist agendas. The American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) is the most important one for adolescent health, and a stark example of corruption.
In 2011, AAP published a Clinical Report—The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families (Guidance for Clinician),strongly cautioning about the dangers of social media usage to adolescents. It even contained the phrase “Facebook depression” (quotes in the original):
Researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.
Five years later, after the research had confirmed the existence of the phenomenon, AAP obsoleted this publication and replaced it with a generic policy statement Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents (November 2016):
Research studies have identified both benefits and concerns regarding mental health and social media use. Benefits from the use of social media in moderation include the opportunity for enhanced social support and connection.
This new lack of concern by the AAP on this issue is surprising and brings their credibility and honesty into question. There is currently so much scientific evidence to the contrary. For example an analysis of a large representative survey states:
Another possibility is that the increased use of electronic communication and digital media during this time period may have changed modes of social interaction enough to affect mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes. For example, individuals who spend more time on social media and less time with others face-to-face report lower well-being and are more likely to be depressed (Lin et al., 2016; Shakya & Christakis, 2017).
See my previous piece for more proof of corruption in the health arena, including what appears to be a co-optation of researchers by Facebook. Other Big Tech companies and even some of their smaller brethren are attempting to emulate Google’s approach.
Big Tech’s Censorship Creates an Intimidation Effect
Gone are the days when Twitter and Facebook only showed their users posts and updates from the few accounts they chose to follow. Now these social media companies decide what to show a user, almost unilaterally, and treat the user’s choice of Friends and those they Follow as an advisory opinion. Big Tech companies make decisions to demote, restrict, or even to ban authors and publishers almost arbitrarily, well beyond the protections they are granted under Section 230 (which only extend to actions made in good faith and voluntarily). Big Tech have also defamed those they have deplatformed. For example, Facebook not only banned Laura Loomer, but smeared her as a dangerous individual.
Whether or not this was their intention, such frequent, unbounded, and capricious exercise of their power over the press creates an intimidation effect. Researchers, authors, and publishers have to consider the potential reaction of Big Tech to the content they wish to publish. Google has also explicitly intimidated researchers who might contradict its agenda, when it forced the New America Foundation to fire Barry Lynn and his Open Markets team. After being fired, Barry Lynn commented:
Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings… People are so afraid of Google now.
That’s bad. People shouldn’t be afraid of Google. If anything, it should be the other way around.
Conflict of Interest Statement
The author is suing Facebook, one of the Big Techs.
The quote in the beginning is from The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, 2014.