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Social Media's Influence On The Election; Should There Be Age Limits For Elected Leaders?; Do Political Lawn Signs Impact The Election Outcome?; How Did Quarantine Affect Teens? Aired 9-10a ET
Aired October 17, 2020 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Social media again takes center stage as Americans head to the polls. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. In 2016, many cried foul when social media was accused of moving too slowly to allow the campaign spread of misinformation and now it's four years later and platforms are being criticized for moving too swiftly.
Republicans are loudly protesting after Facebook and Twitter limited or blocked the distribution of an unsubstantiated "New York Post" article about the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Among the company's concerns was that the article cited purported e- mails from Hunter Biden that may have been obtained in a hack.
CNN has not determined the authenticity of the e-mails and investigation by Senate Republicans ended in September without uncovering any evidence that Joe Biden abused his powers or changed U.S. policy because of his son's business ties with Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Neither the FBI nor anyone in the intelligence community has issued any public statements about whether or not this is linked to a foreign disinformation campaign. We still don't know if the e-mails central to the story are authentic, fake or a combination thereof.
Within three hours of the 200-year-old "New York Post" publishing its article on Wednesday, Facebook said it would slow the distribution so that it would appear less frequently in users' news feeds. Twitter went a step further by blocking people from linking to the story. Among those blocked was White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany after she posted the story.
By Wednesday night, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey criticized his own company's communication of that decision. On Thursday, Twitter said it was changing the policy used to block the "New York Post" article and would now allow similar content to be shared alongside a label to provide context of the source of the information.
That same day, Ajit Pai, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, got into the act. He said he would soon clarify the law. Here were his words, "Social media companies have a right to free speech, but they do not have a first amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets such as newspapers and broadcasters."
The controversy raises important issues concerning Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 26 words that provided internet platforms with a liability shield that enabled the internet to thrive. Here are those 26 words, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
Meanwhile, President Trump is calling Facebook and Twitter "terrible" and "a monster," threatening to go after them. He's tweeted, quote, "Repeal Section 230," and here's what he said on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if big tech persists in coordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protection, OK? It's very simple. And we all believe in freedom of the press, but don't forget big tech got something years ago that let them become big tech, they got total protection. We're going to take away their Section 230 unless they shape up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: In my view, this controversy raises issues that transcend the current election and for the President, maybe this is a case of be careful what you wish for. This suggests that Trump's issue with Facebook and Twitter is their alleged censorship, but if his dream of a world without 230 actually came true, it might have far greater degrees of content restriction, focused on content that might subject platforms to legal liability and I can think of one figure whom those platforms might immediately consider restricting in a world without 230 as a liability shield.
With 17 days to go before the final day of voting, circle October 28 on your calendar. On that day, the heads of Facebook, Twitter and Google are all scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee. This hour, I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question. Should Facebook and Twitter be shielded from liability for the way they police their platforms?
So how might this impact the final days of the campaign? Joining me now to discuss is Scott Galloway. He's a professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business. Professor Galloway, why now?
SCOTT GALLOWAY, MARKETING PROFESSOR, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Good to be with you, Michael. Simply put, the polls showing a Biden/Harris administration is becoming more and more likely. It looks as if there's going to be a new sheriff in town and today we've had somewhat of an unholy alliance between the administration and these platforms that if you continue to let us weaponize these platforms or spread misinformation, we won't regulate or break you up.
[09:05:07] And there is a justified fear among big tech that that alliance is about to break apart. So they seem to be finding religion around ensuring their platforms aren't weaponized to the same extent they've been weaponized in the past.
SMERCONISH: You know Silicon Valley so well. Does Silicon Valley lean red, lean blue?
GALLOWAY: No, it leans green and that is it is -- does not want to be -- ideally it would like to just step back from this debate and they use mantras such as we don't want to be arbiters of truth or we want to give voice to the unheard.
Keep in mind that the majority of the content that goes viral that's political tends to be conspiracy theories that are more novel, more -- if you will, more exciting or inflammatory and when they get spread, any engagement, regardless of the damage it does, results in enragement which results in more clicks which results in more Nissan ads which results in more shareholder value.
So these companies have algorithms that aren't bias towards any political leaning. They're biased towards more ads and more clicks which unfortunately happens when we're enraged with content that is especially false or especially provocative.
SMERCONISH: You heard my opening commentary where I'm wondering aloud if conservatives have it backward, that 230 is actually their best friend. What does a post-230 world look like relative to the content on the internet?
GALLOWAY: Yes. You're exactly right. The Trump administration sort of has it half right and that is these companies should be subject to the same scrutiny as "CNN" or "The New York Times" or "MSNBC." The question is if they just remove 230 and don't update it or replace it, it's likely that the removal of that shield will make these platforms much more skittish and have absolutely no idea how to respond to some of the content that the President puts out which some people could interpret as motivating or inciting violence.
So you could see a situation where they just have no choice but to actually take his account down. So this feels like a punishment that he's trying to levy that he doesn't really understand. It would likely hurt the far right more than it would hurt the far left if 230 were to go away.
SMERCONISH: I'm wondering if it also has some implication for anonymity. Take it from me. My personal experience is that when I meet people in the real town square, they're pleasant even if they're disagreeing with me, but via Twitter, via Facebook, it's an awfully nasty world. They get beer muscles because you don't know who they really are, but if all of a sudden 230 goes away and the media platforms now take on more of a regulatory notion, won't they want to know who the speakers are?
GALLOWAY: Well, actually they don't because if all of a sudden Twitter had to have the blue check across every account that you and I have on our accounts, they would have to report that their -- the number of accounts they have are -- have decreased by 50 to 80 percent, but you're absolutely right, anonymity is a huge problem here.
I would argue -- and this is going to sound paranoid, but it doesn't mean I'm wrong. If we went on to your and my Twitter feeds, we would find a lot of accounts who are purposely trying to create arguments and agita, who are purposely trying to undermine either of us if we say, for example, something critical about Russia that we can't reverse engineer to an actual individual.
So a lot of this content -- we're in an age where a lot of your interpretation of a message is dependent upon who is -- who is communicating that message and on these platforms, you really don't know. So when you get hundreds of messages about anti-vax and 90 percent of them are from accounts where you don't know who is behind it, it's a real problem. Identity, to your point, or forcing identity could be a big part of the solution.
SMERCONISH: Final question. I'm at home, I'm watching CNN right now and I'm hearing this conversation about the impact of this on the campaign, but beyond the campaign, what does it mean to me as an internet user?
GALLOWAY: Well, do you -- you deserve better. If you're willing to spend eight hours in line to vote, then these platforms that have tens of billions of cash flow should hold themselves to higher standards where, if somebody is paying for an ad that's going to suppress your vote or confuse you about poll times, that they have an obligation to deploy a fraction of the resources and scrutiny to ensure the content you're receiving is legitimate content.
And that freedom of speech is not freedom of reach, that there's a conversation around some of these issues that's warranted, but when it gets exponentially more oxygen because it's so incendiary, we have a problem. These platforms are tearing at the fabric of our society and as a voter, as a citizen, as a parent, bottom line, you deserve better and it looks like there's going to be a new sheriff in town.
So we'll see. There's likely going to be overdue changes. The reckoning is overdue.
SMERCONISH: I have to say, I'm surprised to hear you say, if I'm reading you correctly, that they have the ability to monitor all this speech. to me, it's just a fire hose of information. A quick response from you.
GALLOWAY: Oh, be clear. We're not talking about the realm of the possible, we're talking about the realm of the profitable. If "The New York Times" can figure this out with tens of millions of cash flow, Facebook and Twitter can figure it out with billions in cash flow. They can absolutely solve this problem. It just means they'll be less profitable, so they throw their arms up and claim it's impossible. That is a lie.
SMERCONISH: Professor Galloway, thank you as always.
GALLOWAY: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses in real time during the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? From Facebook, "I am not a Trump fan at all, but when Twitter locked out the White House Press Secretary for posting a published story, that was censorship, plain and simple."
Joe Abrams, I don't want to be repetitive, but I think what the conservatives wish for might actually not be the panacea that they envision because it just stands to reason if you get rid of 230, if you get rid of 230, what you're saying is they open themselves up to liability. Think about it logically. If you start -- if you start treating the platforms not like a phone line -- we don't hold Sprint or AT&T responsible for the speech that crosses their line. Instead, right? We think of them as a newspaper going forward, then there's editorial control that they'll need to exhibit and they will limit, perhaps, more speech.
Make sure you're going to Smerconish.com during the course of this hour and answering this week's survey question. Should Facebook and Twitter be shielded from liability for the way they police their platforms?
Up ahead, parents are worried about the effect of COVID forcing their school aged kids to be at home and on screens all day, but new research finds they are actually -- there are actually many unexpected upsides.
And it's political yard sign season. They're everywhere. Do they matter? I will ask an academic who has actually studied the issue.
Plus, are America's leaders getting too old? We are choosing between two 70-something presidential candidates and we have many 70- and even 80-somethings in the House and Senate leadership. Dare we consider age limits?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE MCKINNON, ACTRESS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: You love our fresh new ideas delivered by fresh new faces like me, Nancy Pelosi.
CECILY STRONG, ACTRESS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: And me, Dianne Feinstein.
ALEX MOFFAT, ACTOR, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: And me, Chuck Schumer.
MCKINNON: And we also have some great new leaders waiting in the rings like hot, young thing Elizabeth Warren and also -- that's right ...
JASON SUDEIKIS, ACTOR, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: It's Biden time.
LARRY DAVID, ACTOR, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: And I'm still around, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Is America in a crisis of aging leadership? We ground airline pilots at age 65, but our leaders piloting the country are one, even two decades older. We have minimum age requirements for our representatives. You've got to be 25 to run for Congress, 30 to run for the Senate, 35 to be President, but from then on, the sky's the limit.
Whoever wins on the final day of voting, America will have its oldest President at inauguration ever. Donald Trump will be 74, Joe Biden 78. Our oldest previous president was Ronald Reagan who, when he left office, was 77 and some thought had cognitive issues.
This year, several of Biden's top rivals would also have been the oldest presidents at inauguration. Bernie Sanders just turned 79, Michael Bloomberg 78, Elizabeth Warren a relatively youthful 71 and it's not just the executive branch. The average age in Congress is near an all-time high.
When the 116th Congress took office in January of 2019, the average representative age was 57.6 years, of Senators, 62.9 years. Now we can add another 21 months to those figures. The oldest and longest-serving congressmen, Alaska Republican Don Young, is 87, born June 9th, 1933. He's on the ballot again this year trying for a 25th term.
But also look at the House leadership. Speaker Pelosi, 80, Majority Leader Hoyer, 81, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 80, Chair of Science, Space and Technology Eddie Bernice Johnson, 84, Chair of Financial Services Maxine Waters, 82, Chair of the Oversight Committee Carolyn Maloney, 74, Chair of the Judiciary Jerry Nadler, 73, Outgoing Chair of Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel who lost in the primary, 73, Chair of Natural Resource, Raul Grijalva, 72, and Chair of the House Ways and Means Richard Neal, only 71.
On the Senate side, 28, 28 of the 100 senators over 70. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who's running and ahead in the polls, 78, President Pro Tem Chuck Grassley, 87, as is Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary, Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby, 86, Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe, 85, Chair of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Pat Roberts, 84, departing Chair of Health Education, Labor and Pensions Lamar Alexander is 80, as is Ranking Appropriations Committee Member Patrick Leahy.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. It's a uniquely American phenomenon. Yes, our population is aging, but so has nearly every European country and yet the typical E.U. leader has actually gotten younger.
Think of France's Emmanuel Macron who's just 42, Austria's Sebastian Kurz, 34, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 48, North Korea's Kim Jong-un, believed to be 36, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who just won re-election in a landslide, 40.
I thought surely there are age limits restrictions in place in some of those countries, but in fact most countries have only minimum age requirements on the books from as young as 18 to as old as 45, but no countries force leaders out on the basis of age. As Adam Taylor has pointed out in "The Washington Post," "The few limits there can be strategically ignored. China's Xi Jinping, now 67, widely expected to flout Beijing's informal retirement age of 68 to continue for a third term or outright repeal it, as happened in recent years in Turkmenistan and Uganda by legal means."
For example, in Brazil, all public servants must retire at 70 and in the Philippines, government employees have a mandatory retirement age of 65, but neither applies to presidents. Brazil's president before Bolsonaro, Michel Temer, was 75 when he took office, held it until 78. President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is 75.
In the past few years, Tunisia's president died in office at 92, Nalaysia had a 92-year-old who stepped down in February, Zimbabwe's prime minister, Robert Mugabe, was 93 when ousted from office. Could that happen here?
In the United States, mandatory retirement is generally unlawful. 1967's Age Discrimination in Employment Act protected those 40 and over from age based on discrimination, but only until you reach the age of 70. In 1986, the 70-year-old limit was removed. And of course as for the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently passed on the bench at age 87. Stephen Breyer on the bench is 82.
No other major western democracy allows its most powerful judges to serve to such advanced age. In fact, 32 states in the United States have mandatory retirement ages for judges ranging from 70 to 90. And look, there are definitely some old drivers on the road who need at least a renewal license test. Is it time to examine if we need to set a sunset year?
Joining me now is Daniel Bessner, Professor of Western Civilization at the University of Washington. He co-authored this piece in "The Guardian," "America has become a gerontocracy. We must change that." I've never heard that word before, gerontocracy. What accounts for this, Professor?
DANIEL BESSNER, PROFESSOR OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: Hi. Thanks for having me. I think the two major reasons are, one, the elected officials of the country reflect the most important and largest voting bloc, and that's of course the Baby Boomers and to a lesser degree now, the Silent Generation, and then, two, the advantages of incumbency are probably the two major technical issues.
And I would add one more thing to that and that's the fact that in the United States, we don't really culturally talk about old age and what the role of people should be in politics as they get older. I think it's difficult to perhaps have a blanket maximum age law because sometimes that would restrict people who might -- who maybe should be running and I think that's really important.
But I do think we need to talk more seriously about what it says about the culture and what it says about the structure of American politics that so much of our government are run by people who, for example, won't be around to deal with the effects of climate change, many of whom are also wealthy and won't suffer the effects of inequality and so I think these are important structural issues that we as a country and we as a citizenry need to discuss.
SMERCONISH: I am sure that post show today, I will hear from my mother who, by the way, insists she is 65 and I'm not going to second guess her and her argument will probably be, but wait a minute, you get all this wisdom, the age and experience factor. Is that enough of a justification?
BESSNER: I will also probably hear from my mother as well. I think that the -- I think wisdom is, in fact, important. I think there is an element of politics where people who are in the system, people who know the system well do you have important contributions to make. I think that's absolutely right. I think the issue, though, becomes when it's so obviously a structural concern when there are younger people who are locked out of the leadership positions, particularly in the Democratic party.
I think when it becomes this entire class of gerontocrats, that's when we really have to examine why that is and what we can do to change it both technically in terms of technical fixes, but also as a culture to address why that might be, why so many people are young -- young people are locked out of these important leadership positions.
SMERCONISH: Well, is it -- is it a function of older voters, an older voting demographic voting for their own?
BESSNER: I think it must be partially a function of that. I think clearly voters -- and this is understandable -- want to elect people who not only look like them, but who they believe understand their concerns fully, who understand what they're going through, who want to help them.
But the problem is is that young people have been locked out to such a significant degree that we have a structure that's just incredibly top-heavy, almost like the late Soviet Union where you had three Soviet leaders in succession die relatively quickly because they were so old and I have to say, they were younger than all the people you just mentioned.
SMERCONISH: Professor, thanks so much for your expertise.
BESSNER: Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via my social media, Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. What do we have? Via Twitter, "Age limits? Isn't that discrimination? I think term limits would be better. Should television have a hair," -- whoa. That is below the belt. Come on now.
Look, I agree with you, Bugs Daddio. I happen to think that term limits would be a great thing. Twelve years sounds about right in terms of instilling new blood in the Congress, in the House and in the Senate. You know what the flip side of that is. People who are watching this right now will say well, Bugs, Michael, we have term limits. They are every four years for the president, two years for the Congress and six years for the Senate and if you don't like it, vote somebody out, but I happen to agree with you. I think that's a step in the right direction.
I want to remind you go to the website at Smerconish.com. Answer this week's survey question. This is going to be interesting. We'll find out at the end of the hour. Should Facebook and Twitter be shielded from liability for the way they police their platforms? That is the so-called 230 debate.
Up ahead, American teenagers already undergo a lot of stress. So does going to school during a pandemic, isolated from friends, forced to spend extra time with family help or hurt their mental health? The findings of a new study may surprise and please you.
And in the battleground states, yard signs are everywhere, but do these tell us anything about who's going to win? What is the impact of yard signs? A professor who has studied the issue is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND, SIGNS: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign? Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Every four years, for as many presidential cycles as I can recall, I get telephone calls on my SiriusXM radio program from all across the country from listeners who share observations about candidate yard signs that they see in their neighborhood. And this year is no exception.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ADAM FROM CANONSBURG, PA, SIRIUSXM RADIO CALLER: It's going to go Trump, but I think it's turning a little. Before the signs were 20-1, but you start to see those Biden signs pop up a little here and there.
JOSEPH, SIRIUSXM RADIO CALLER: I was up in western Pennsylvania. I did not see one Biden sign until the very last day I was there. I thought it was kind of fun to make it a game to see if I could find a Biden sign. And I finally found one.
And now down here in Florida, especially along the waterways, there's there Trump flotillas and Trump signs everywhere on all the boats.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I've long wondered whether yard signs moved the needle, are they effective advertising? And are they indicative of broad support a candidate enjoys in a given area or just the reflection of the passion of an individual homeowner? In other words, do they simply reflect voter enthusiasm?
Before the first debate, 91 percent of Trump voters were enthusiastic about casting their ballot compared to 79 percent of Biden voters. After the debate, voter enthusiasm rose for both candidates but more so for Biden. Now 86 percent of Biden voters are excited to vote for the former vice president.
How do yard signs play into voter enthusiasm in the grand scheme of the election outcome? It turns out the issue has been studied. In an analysis published in 2016, researchers looked at the effects of lawn signs on four different campaigns at the federal state and local level.
And joining me now to discuss is one of the authors of that study. Alexander Coppock, an assistant professor of political science at Yale. Professor, what did you do and what did you conclude?
ALEXANDER COPPOCK, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, YALE UNIVERSITY: So, you started off the section saying well, whether you see a lot of signs in an area, does that tell you anything about who's going to win in that area? And I'll say, it's probably correlated with that vote share.
So, if you see a lot of Biden-Harris signs in a particular area -- so in my neighborhood, we see a lot of Biden-Harris signs, New Haven, Connecticut is likely to go for Biden. But the real question is, do they change any minds? And so for that we need to do a randomized experiment. So we did that in four places.
Well, we did those randomized experiments -- in some precincts we picked random precincts and we put about 40 to 50 lawn signs at those places. And then we didn't do it in other precincts in a particular election. Then after the election, we looked at vote share and then we compared the vote share place where we put the signs versus where we didn't, and we saw that on average the place where we put signs were about 1.7 percentage points higher. So it works a very small but detectable amount.
SMERCONISH: So, do the lessons apply to high-profile races -- put back on the screen, from the study, the examples that the professor and his colleagues used. I'm wondering if this apply -- there you are. So you've got McAuliffe.
You've got Kathy Sheehan. You've got Eichelberger and Schin. But when you're talking about the president, they have 100 percent name I.D. All four of them. Trump and Pence and Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. Do the lessons equally apply to the local race and the big national race?
COPPOCK: So the answer has to be we don't know yet. So we can do this experiment over and over again and we should to find the answer to your question.
If we were to apply the lessons of what we know from other kinds of advertising to lawn signs, we would say, well, we know that on average, ads on lower (INAUDIBLE) elections have bigger effects than presidential elections. So, I think the same would probably apply to lawn signs as well.
You mentioned the name recognition channel through which lawn signs might affect outcomes it could also be through a social channel. You find out what your neighbors think which might change how you think. So, that's the one difference I would say is that, yes, they have perfect name recognition, but perhaps you don't know who likes who just yet.
SMERCONISH: I live in the Philadelphia suburbs and it's -- where I am and around me, it's a sea of Biden-Harris. I hope I'm going to fishing later today. And where I'm going fishing, it will be all Trump signs.
And yes, the polling data suggests that's a reflection of those two geographic pockets. So, I'm hearing from you that they can be effective. And they do have some predictive value. You get the final comment.
COPPOCK: So, please don't use lawn signs to predict elections. You would be laughed out of Nate Silver's salon, if you used them that way. However, they are probably a little bit correlated. You could do better with just last year's vote share.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, professor.
COPPOCK: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, the pandemic has tripled depression and anxiety levels among adults. You'd think it would be even harder on teenagers. But think again, this could be good news. I will explain.
And please make sure that you are answering the survey question of the week at Smerconish.com.
"Should Facebook and Twitter be shielded from liability for the way they police their platforms?"
SMERCONISH: Many of us know from experience that adulting is hard. Amid a pandemic it's even harder. The CDC says anxiety among U.S. adults tripled compared to the last two years and depression quadrupled. But how did teenagers adapt?
Many of them were pulled from school during their formative years, could see their friends, too online adult like worrying of catching the virus. To better understand how these circumstances affected teens a study funded by the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution surveyed more than 1,500 of them between May and July. And the results were surprising, and in a good way.
The percentage of teenagers experiencing depression is actually lower in 2020. Twenty-seven percent of teens in 2018 were depressed, as opposed to 17 percent in 2020 during quarantined school sessions and 20 percent during quarantine summer.
Joining me now to discuss is one of the authors of that study, Jean Twenge. She's a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and also author of a great book "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us." Doctor Twenge, in order to understand your new study people need, I think, to understand your prior work. Give me the short version of what you found in "iGen"?
JEAN TWENGE, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY: Yes. So, in "iGen" I took a careful look at how teens are different now compared to 10 years ago or 20 years ago. So, one of the things we found was a really big increase in depression and loneliness and unhappiness especially since about 2012 is when it really started to shoot upward.
More than likely, that's because teens started seeing their friends less in person and started spending a lot more time on social media and in front of a screen. And they also spent less time sleeping. That's really linked to depression and mental health. So that might have been one of the problems as well in that increase since 2012.
SMERCONISH: So, I would have applied the lessons of "iGen" to the pandemic and thought things have taken an even worse turn for teens, but I would have been wrong. How so?
TWENGE: Yes, I was wrong, too. I was very surprised to find that teens were actually doing all right. Even slightly better in terms of depression during the pandemic, compared to a demographically similar sample from 2018. And we compared the two from the same surveys that I used in "iGen."
So I think there's a number of factors here. So, first, unlike adults, teens weren't quite as impacted by all of the economic disruptions. They weren't the ones losing jobs and worrying about paying the rent. Their parents were. Except their parents in their age groups more likely to be stable in terms of their jobs and economic situations compared to say much younger people.
The other big element is that teens were not having to get up at the crack of dawn to go to school. So, they stayed at home. They did online school. And they finally got to get the sleep that they need, based on their natural biological rhythm which usually pushes them to stay up later.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Twenge, I know the data suggests that families that eat together tend to have a healthier environment for child rearing not because of what's in the mashed potatoes but because it's indicative of a support network.
What did you find relative, and we'll put this on the screen as well, to family time?
TWENGE: That was one of the other key things. You know there was this silver lining in the spring and the summer with a lot of stay-at-home orders. So, a lot of parents were working from home. Teens weren't going to school. They weren't running around, going to activities.
The pace of life slowed down, and we spent face-to-face time with our families. So for teens, it's going to be their siblings, their parents. And the majority of the teens in our survey said that they're family became closer during the pandemic. They said it was more likely for them to have dinner now with their family. To go on walks and do other outdoor activities. That's, of course, also very good for mental health. So that was a big piece of the puzzle as well.
SMERCONISH: So, less depression. More sleep. More time with family. And how about on the subject for which you are best known connectivity? I'll put it up on the screen while you explain.
TWENGE: Yes. So, you know, this was another place where there was a little bit of a surprise. You'd think, during stay-at-home orders teenagers would immediately flock to Instagram and other social media. Actually, they spent a little less time on social media in the spring and summer of 2020, compared to 2018.
Now, they did increase their use of TV and videos and more distracting things. But they're also texting a little less. They also, though, did Skype and Zoom and FaceTime with their friends more.
So they made some smart choices in terms of their electronic communication with their friends. They focused on more of those real time interactions like you can do on FaceTime or Zoom and less time scrolling through social media in a passive way. And the majority of the teens told us they thought that helped them feel connected with their friends.
And, remember, it's kind of been a dress rehearsal for this their whole lives. They're already used to not spending time with their friends as much face-to-face. That was kind of already baked in to the mental health statistics, so that's one piece as well.
SMERCONISH: To quote The Who, "The kids are alright." We hope.
Dr. Twenge, thank you as always.
TWENGE: Thanks very much.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Twenge's book, by the way is tremendous "iGen" -- "iGen" Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and we'll give you the final results of the question. Have you voted yet at Smerconish.com?
"Should Facebook and Twitter be shielded from liability for the way they police their platforms?" Go vote.
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question at Smerconish.com this week.
"Should Facebook and Twitter be shielded from liability for the way they police their platforms?"
Hit me with the result. What do we got? Interesting. Wow, close to 20,000 votes cast and 74 percent say they should not be shielded. They are shielded today, right? They are shielded by Section 230 and 74 percent of you think that shield should be removed. I must say I'm quite surprised I thought there would be more of an even divide.
Catherine, what did we have in terms of social media?
Smerconish, the more you talk about the "New York Post" article, the more you give it oxygen. It was most likely Russian disinformation. Stop being an unwitting idiot.
Jayhawkliberal, I think you missed the point of this week's program. The point of the program was not about "The Post" and it was not about Hunter Biden, because this subject transcends this campaign. It's about the future of the internet.
And what I painstakingly sought to do at the outset of the program was to explain that when the internet was created, a 26-word protection was given to the platforms that shielded them from liability in a way that doesn't extend to, say, CNN or a newspaper. And here is the president making this an ideological issue. Republicans say we've got to get rid of Section 230.
My experience as a trial lawyer and having read in on this subject, tells me to tell them, be careful what you wish for. Because if 230 goes away, then there will be more enforcement, I think, of speech codes by Twitter, by Facebook, and who will be impacted by that, perhaps, controversial speakers like Donald Trump. So that was the lesson today.
In terms of giving that story oxygen, I give that story oxygen on radio only to dispute it. If you're a radio listener of mine, you would know that I've spoken of the story in detail. I don't think it does Joe Biden any favor to ignore it. I think George Stephanopoulos should have asked him about it in the town hall. I also think that the origin of the story, at least to me, sounds like bullshit.
I mean, who takes a laptop with their most personal information, drops it off and never comes back for it? That doesn't pass my smell test. But I rather apply critical thinking to stories like this, air it out. And I don't know what the facts are.
The facts have not yet been generated by sources that I think we can all trust. So that's my personal view. Probably told you more than you wanted to know on that subject. But today's lesson was all about how our future might look a heck of a lot different if 230 goes away and all of a sudden now we are treating media platforms more like we're treating a newspaper or a television outlet than we are a telephone line.
We don't hold, you know, Bell or Sprint responsible for the speech that goes across the transom, but we do hold other media outlets responsible. Where should the internet fall? That's the issue.
Thank you for watching. I'll see you by the way next Thursday as part of debate night coverage.