Thursday, February 1, 2024

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Thursday, February, 1, 2024.

Thursday, February, 1st, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Explosive Session on an Explosive Issue: Social Media Executives Face Senate Judiciary Committee Over Harm to Young People

House and Senate committees meet regularly, and usually, we don’t talk about those hearings, but the exception comes when something important happens, and something important happened yesterday. It happened in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it happened as the hearing, that lasted about three and a half hours, was concerned with the dangers of social media to America’s teenagers, children, and young people. The hearing was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that’s one of the most powerful of all the committees in the United States Senate.

And In this case, it really did make headline news, the hearing that was held yesterday, because of all things, it occasioned such unexpected developments as Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, and of course that includes several platforms including Facebook, was asked, basically commanded, to turn to those gathered there in the hearing, including many grieving families and parents that had given testimony, to face them, and offer an apology. He did. Mark Zuckerberg said to those in the room, and of course by television to the nation, “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered,” but behind all of that is a fascinating development, and actually one of the biggest issues we could consider from worldview analysis, important analysis, analysis important to every individual, to every Christian, to every Christian family, and to every Christian Church. How in the world do we deal with the challenge of young people and social media? 

So before we turn to the hearing, let’s just back up for a moment, and ask ourselves what this issue is really all about. Well, for one thing, persons of a certain age now take social media for granted as if it always has existed, but of course, it hasn’t always existed. So, some of the things that came up in the hearings yesterday had to do with tragedies involving teenagers and young people who had been exploited by others on social media, and the fact is that no contact would’ve been made, no identity could have been associated. The two individuals, just to take someone who is out to do harm, and then the young person harmed, those two individuals would not have connected at all in the age before social media in so many of these cases.

Social media has connected persons, of course, all over the world, but we need to hear ourselves say that, because we don’t actually want to be connected to everyone all over the world. And even more emphatically, we don’t want our children, teenagers, and young people connected to everyone all over the world. The Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, reported just a matter of months ago, we talked about it on The Briefing at the time, that there is a massive mental health crisis among American young people, and we shouldn’t be surprised by that. Social media, well, it’s not alone to blame, we need to recognize that, many other social factors are certainly involved with moral effect, but we do need to note that social media has created a vulnerability, a danger, for young people that frankly has never existed before in human history.

Now, sometimes we’re tempted to say that, and then back off and say, “Well, could that possibly be true?” But in terms of the technology, yes, it is absolutely true. If you were to go back just, say, 40 years in American history, 40 years is a safe period of time. Persons might have been connected one way or another through some kind of connectivity of telephone, certainly the mail, and of course, you had all kinds of media, but that was basically the three television networks, the rise of cable television, and a few other very limited options. You had newspapers. They were available back then 40 years ago in print. What you didn’t have was the ability of virtually anyone on planet earth with access to the internet to be connected to everyone else, and to download almost anything, from everyone, everywhere in the world. 

But the hearings held yesterday zeroed in on responsibility. The executives of Meta, TikTok, X, Snap, and Discord were grilled by both Republicans and Democrats. And of course, this was televised. CNN and other news networks carried some if not much of it live. Then of course, the rest of it was seen by other people in other platforms, and is available now all 3.5 hours of it, but the five executives appeared, and senators really did grill them. Now, one of the questions we have to ask is whether this leads to anything in terms of senate action, not to mention the entirety of Congress. But, it was morally significant to see the issues that were discussed in this hearing yesterday put out before the public. Now, for one thing, you had the issue of the content of social media, and the fact is that much of it is downright reprehensible. Now, let me give you just one example. This was reported in the Wall Street Journal. “Meta, [that’s just one of these companies with multiple platforms] reported about 27.2 million instances of suspected child sexual abuse material on its main platforms.”

Let’s just hear that again. That’s one company, which is reporting itself, 27.2 million instances of suspected child sexual abuse material. Now, there were other things that came out in the testimony yesterday. You had parents talking about their children, some of whom are no longer alive, who had been bullied online. Some had been sexually exploited online. Others, well, they were just the victims of all kinds of material contact, and just exposure that comes by means of social media. 

Now, there were some other just massive issues that came up here, but first, let’s just consider that there is moral responsibility in every technology, and this is something that Christians have to understand. There’s a moral dimension to the development of the wheel. The wheel can be used to convey you somewhere to save labor, to speed up transportation, it can also be used to crush someone. A wheel can be directed towards some place that is righteous, or towards a place that is basically an opportunity for unrighteousness. But the wheel expanded the opportunity for transportation, the reach of human beings faster than we could walk, once you come up with ways of propulsion, and that could begin for one thing with just an animal pulling a cart with two wheels. But, even as ancient technology comes with its own moral dimensions, modern technology comes with multiplied moral dimensions, because of the sophistication of the technology, and the immediacy, and the reach. 

Now, another thing we need to note is that technology has generally been, well, under the control of people such as parents who understood the technology better than their offspring. But we are in a very interesting situation right now, where especially when it comes to social media, the offspring sometimes know a great deal more about the platforms and how social media actually operates than the parents. This is an inversion of the normal situation, and it’s one that brings particular dangers. It also raises the issue of parents being able to protect their children, and guard their children against the misuse of these social media platforms. I think one of the things Christian parents have to consider is whether or not their children should be on these platforms at all. Because, once you start to look at this information, you come to understand that the platforms offer, and indeed come with vulnerabilities that are actually very, very difficult fully to remedy. 

But it was really, really interesting to see how many people said, “We need to trust parents.” These are not people who’ve been really big on parental rights, but they’re doing this as a way of trying to avoid legislation that would prevent young people from having access to social media, and would put rather significant limitations on these platforms. There’s another background issue here, and that is that Congress gave the social media platforms in the early days of the internet, gave them legal protection from being sued by people for postings that are made by others. That is to say, not made by the company, but made by others, and posted on those platforms. Now, we come to understand that was probably a mistake. At the time, we can understand why Congress might have done that, because otherwise, the technologies would never have gotten off the ground, but they did get off the ground, and now we see there are effects, but no one’s exactly sure how, if Congress were to reverse that position, and were to remove that exemption, it’s still hard to know how you could keep these social media platforms and the companies that own them accountable. 

This is one of the ugliest pictures of how sin corrupts, and corrupts so pervasively. In the scripture, it speaks of sin seizing the opportunity, and that’s exactly what seems to apply to social media. Sin seizes the opportunity. There are many parents who quite frankly recognize they can’t keep up with this challenge, but there are at least some incremental steps that could be taken. And what’s interesting is to note how many of these social media leaders really aren’t willing to face legislation that would force those protections.

Another very interesting development in the midst of all of this is that when you talk about almost anything in a congressional context, you talk about red and blue. You talk about Republican and Democrats. You talk about two different positions, two different parties, and in many ways two different understandings of reality, but not in this case. In this case, there was enormous bipartisan concern. There was enormous bipartisan agreement that there is a huge crisis here. Whereas, in these major congressional hearings, especially in the hearings of a committee like the Senate Judiciary Committee, where usually you’d have Republicans sparring against Democrats, no, in this case, the Republicans and the Democrats on one side of one big desk, they were very much directed at the social media executives. And it was pretty much the Republican and democratic legislators together making very clear their concerns about the vulnerabilities and dangers presented to young Americans by these social media platforms. Now, that’s worthy of our notice if for no other reason than to say, “When you find people who are generally at odds on almost everything agreed that this is a problem, that should tell you as Christians to pay attention.” As we are thinking in terms of worldview analysis, pay attention here. It could mean, that this unanimity or common concern points to a very legitimate issue. It could be that it points to something else, but in this case, it’s extremely legitimate. I think, Christians have to understand this.

And we also have to understand that we have to look at this not only in terms of the pathologies that even, say, Republicans and Democrats would bring to this conversation saying, “Look at this vulnerability. Look at this harm. Look at this epidemic. Look at these numbers on self-esteem, on all kinds of psychiatric and psychotherapeutic problems. Look at the trauma. Look at the anxiety.” We have to say, we have to look at the theological dimension here. We have to look at the fact that this represents an occasion for sin and the amplification of sin, and frankly, the reach of sin into individual lives in a way that really is unprecedented in human history. Now, that doesn’t mean, and here’s something very important in terms of biblical truth, it doesn’t mean that human beings now are more sinful than human beings in the past. That’s simply not true.

But what is true, is that if Scripture says sin seizes the opportunity, and the vast expansion of these social media technologies has just granted an enormous new vulnerability for sin to seize that opportunity. Before leaving this hearing, there were other issues that came up, for example, especially with TikTok, with questions about vulnerability to information being taken and misused by the Communist party in China. Those are not insignificant issues that were raised, but we do understand that when you are looking at the reach of social media, Christians have to be those who understand that anything that can reach this far into individual lives can never be morally neutral, never. Another fascinating development of the hearing yesterday is not just that you had on the one hand Republicans and Democrats, very unusually together. You have these social media leaders that were, at times, well, not together, in one sense, almost pointing fingers at each other. “Well, if you think this is bad, you should look at that guy’s problem.” 

But the high moment of drama did come when Missouri Republican senator Josh Hawley, unexpectedly, at least in terms of those watching, asked Zuckerberg to apologize, and in particular to apologize to the families, to the parents who were there present for the hearing. Again, Zuckerberg said, “I’m sorry for everything that you have all gone through. It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have.” But he went on to say, “This is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the types of things that your families have had to suffer.”

But the bottom line is they’re not changing anything materially, and these companies are not seizing the opportunity to take responsibility for this content, the vulnerabilities that it creates. This is also where I just had to speak to Christian parents, and ask, “What in the world are you thinking?” Because we really are looking at a horror story here, and quite frankly, there is no policy that the government can possibly undertake that will be adequate to the task. I’m not saying it’s not important. I’m not saying there’s not the moral necessity that they take these actions. I’m simply saying they won’t be enough to protect your children, and no legislative body is going to pass any law that’s going to do your job for you. 

But this then takes me from Washington D.C. down to the state of Florida, where there’s a related development, and it is really, really interesting, and the arguments coming out of it, well, Christians need to find these arguments very, very interesting as well. Now, you have the Florida Legislature, which is now entering into its 2024 session. And the House of Representatives under Republican leadership there in the Florida legislature is moving through with two bills. One is HB1. The other is HB3. They both have to do with social media. The first of them, that’s House Bill One, would ban social media platforms for minors in Florida under age 16. So, that is just an absolute ban. If you would be a teenager under age 16 in Florida, you would not be able to be a client of one of these social media services. You would be forbidden from access to those platforms. The other bill I want to mention is House Bill Three, and this would require age verification for access to pornography. Age verification is a means whereby at least there has to be some proof that this person is not a child in order to view or access this material.

So, you have these bills that are moving forward in Florida, and the arguments behind them have gained a lot of momentum. There is every likelihood that this will pass not only in the Florida House, but in the Florida legislature, and will go to the governor’s desk. That’s Governor Ron DeSantis. And even as the governor has asked for some changes to be made to the bills, mostly in terms of technicalities and preventing the bills from being successfully appealed in court, the reality is it’s likely to become law, but the opposition is pretty fierce. The opposition is making some very interesting arguments. One of them is a parental rights’ argument that is being offered by people who generally don’t really believe in parental rights, so, this tells us something fishy is going on, and when something fishy is going on, I think we need to take a look at it.

Part II

Government Has a Role in This Issue: Public Policy Must Protect Children and Teenagers from the Very Real Threat of Social Media Platforms

So, let’s look. One place to look is in an article that appeared in the Jacksonville, Florida newspaper on Sunday. It’s by Howard Simon who is identified as the interim director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. We’re also told that he served as director from 1997 to 2018. So, here’s someone, and he evidently holds a Ph.D., he has been director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, is now the interim director. He wrote an article entitled, “Let Parents Decide What Social Media Kids Can See.” So this article, at least in the social media part, is in opposition to House Bill I, and the American Civil Liberties Union saying that, “We ought to just trust parents to decide what their children and teenagers should be able to see having access to these platforms.” 

Now, that raises a very interesting question. Many of these platforms already have rules in place that say that parents must give permission for young people, teenagers of a certain age to register on those platforms, but that’s a pretty flimsy process, and we all know it. And furthermore, it’s extremely difficult for parents to understand what they’re doing in many cases, and for parents to manage the access that their young children and teenagers might have on these social media platforms. So, even as parents are supposed to have to give permission for most children of a certain age on most of these platforms, the reality is that’s really more of a fig leaf of a policy than an actual policy. So, the state of Florida is actually looking at this legislation that would just say under a certain age, no legal access in the state of Florida, and for minors of any age, there would be the protection of having age verification on pornography sites.

You would think that that would be pretty non-controversial, but of course it’s not. Howard Simon writing in this article, I think he’s pretty consistent from a certain civil libertarian perspective. He’s simply saying it’s wrong for the legislature to move to make the decision on behalf of parents that children under age 16 teenagers would not have access to social media platforms. He’s more or less saying that’s just wrong. He acknowledges the concerns. “There are concerns about the harm that social media poses to mental health, including depression and anxiety. Some critics, he says, “of social media have cited examples in which social media exposure has led to students,” and I’ll simply say here, committing self-harm. He goes on to say, “The link between social media and the mental health of young people, especially worries about appearance and body image and eating disorders among young women, is supported by limited empirical evidence, and certainly needs further study.”

Now, that’s a sly sentence, because it opens by appearing to say this is a big problem, but then ends by saying, “There’s not a lot of really firm evidence on this. We need to look at this further.” But speaking of the impression of this harm, he says, “Nevertheless, the perception seems to be firmly fixed in the public’s and the legislator’s mind.” Well, I simply say that’s for good and obvious reason, and that’s because you really don’t need some kind of scientifically credentialed study to tell us that this is causing great harm. Anyone who works with children and teenagers knows it. The same kind of logic comes when Dr. Simon writes, “It’s probably true that too many young people spend too much time on social media,” but he goes on to say, “We need more data about the impact of the time on these platforms, and the harm to mental health.”

Let me just speak to parents and to listeners of The Briefing. By now, we know, that we know what impact these platforms are having in the lives of teenagers. If you need more empirical data here, I think that just points to the nature of the problem. This is just ignoring the obvious at this point. But the crucial section of his argument comes with this, “But all this ignores what should be the major point. There are serious negatives to social media, as well as positive for the intellectual and emotional development of young people. But the real issue is who should be doing the balancing, parents or the state legislature?” He then asked the rhetorical question, “Whatever happened to parents’ rights?”

Well, let’s just look at that for a moment, because we’re big on parents’ rights. As a matter of fact, I don’t think this is merely a legislative reality. We believe that this is a God-given responsibility, and we believe that parents should be vigilant to watch that the government and school authorities and others do not infringe upon their own authority. But when we’re looking at social media, it’s not really an issue of parental authority. As I said, you’re often looking at a situation in which parents don’t have the ability to supervise what is going on with the social media exposure of their children and teenagers. And we also have to say that parental rights in this sense, parental authority, parental choice, that is not just in a blanket way extended to every conceivable endeavor. 

But I’m going to argue that there’s a bigger problem here, and that is that parental rights and parental authority are not really the issue here. Because if parents want their children to have access to social media, they can make that happen on their own social media accounts. They can make that happen one way or the other. But this legislation and the impetus behind what was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, those concerns are about the harms that are coming into the lives of America’s teenagers and children, and for that matter, young adults. But legally, we’re talking about minors here most emphatically. That harm is now such a clear and present danger that, I think, most morally sane persons know that somebody needs to do something. 

Part III

Parents, How Much Do You Actually Know? What Are You Doing About This Threat? Parents Are Responsible to Protect Their Children Online

But as we bring this edition of The Briefing to a close, I have to go back to the hearings yesterday, and say the big question is what in the world are the senators going to do? It’s one thing for Republicans and Democrats to show bipartisan concern and a bipartisan awareness of an emergency, but how is that going to get translated into legislation that can be signed into law by a president, and actually see the light of day? What will actually change? There are even some members of the Senate who said, “Look, this is just the annual exercise and beating up on the social media executives,” And if that’s all that there is, then maybe the only good that can come out of it is for America’s parents to wake up a bit.

But that then gets to the bigger issue of parental responsibility here, and that’s simply huge and unavoidable. It’s like a five alarm fire that’s going off. And far too few Christians are talking about this, and I can simply tell you that church by church, occasion by occasion, conversation by conversation, and campus by campus, I’m being made more and more aware of how social media creates such a distortion field. It’s one thing for adults to have to deal with this as adults registered on these platforms. It’s a very different thing for teenagers and young people to be on these platforms. And quite honestly, all you have to have is a conversation with one of these families to understand just how devastating this can actually be. And I would just say to Christian parents, you need to ask yourself a very hard question, and that is, “How much do you actually know, I mean, really know about the social media activities of your own children and teenagers?” I think that’s an unavoidable question. 

At some point, they’re no longer minors and, quite frankly, the complexity grows at that point, but so long as they are under parental authority, parents need to exercise that authority. At the very least, it should be very much understood and just a matter of reality, that children have no hidden places to go on the internet, places their parents don’t know, and don’t take the time to trace. One other thought about that, by the way, and that is that fixing a problem, well, that’s actually of course something Christians are called to do, Christian parents emphatically so, but we also need to understand that preventing the damage, and mitigating the danger, that too is certainly the responsibility of Christian churches, and of Christian individuals, and even more emphatically, in Christian families, it falls to Christian parents.

But with all that in mind, I also want to talk to you about Boyce College Preview Day coming up March 21st through 22nd. The very issues we just discussed emphatically, I think, underline the importance of Christian education. In particular, I want to speak to Christian parents and Christian young people about an authentically Christian college education. That’s why I’m so thankful for Boyce College. Our world-class faculty is committed, completely, to preparing young men and women for gospel service and ministry for a life of effectiveness and faithfulness in the marketplace. If you or someone you know is looking for a distinctively Christian college education, I want to invite you to this Preview Day.

Boyce College Preview Day is March 21 through 22nd. Students and their families will spend time with our faculty, and a tour of the campus, get to know our current students and more. This is always a great event. I enjoy personally getting to meet with students and their families. I look forward to you, and a young person you know and love, coming to know what God’s doing at Boyce College, and what is really possible and available here for Christian young people. 

Listeners to The Briefing should go to Listeners, just use the promo code “The Briefing” to register for free.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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