Jan 11, 2023 - Podcasts

The escalating fight over Big Tech and kids

Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit accusing Big Tech of helping cause a youth mental health crisis. It's going after TikTok, Meta, Snap and other companies in one of many cases that seek to hold social media platforms responsible for harm to children.

  • Plus, more deaths in California as winter storms rage on.
  • And, what we know about the classified documents found from Biden’s VP days.

Guests: Axios' Ashley Gold, Sophia Cai and Andrew Freedman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, January 11th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: more deaths in California as winter storms rage on. Plus, what we know about the classified documents found from Biden’s VP days. But first: the escalating fight over Big Tech and kids. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Seattle Public Schools are suing big tech for helping cause a “youth mental health crisis.” The school district is going after TikTok, Meta, Snap and other companies. And this is just one of many cases that seek to hold social media platforms responsible for harm to children. Axios’ Tech Reporter Ashley Gold has been covering this. Hey Ashley.

ASHLEY: Hi. Thanks for having me.

NIALA: What are scientists saying about the growing evidence of a correlation between heavy social media use and mental health disorders, particularly in teenagers?

ASHLEY: So we have seen scientific evidence that growing use of social media by teenagers is detrimental to mental health. Of course, tech companies would dispute those studies and point out what they say are flaws in them. But on the other hand, we've had other studies that say that teens and children largely view their experiences on social media as positive. So whatever you take from that, it's playing a big role in kids' lives.

NIALA: Is it fair to say this could be a major turning point for tech platforms?

ASHLEY: I think so, lawyers that I talk to that are working on this case and advocates that have been sort of agitating for action against social media for a long time are comparing this current moment to the fight against big tobacco or the fight against opioid abuse. They compare it to that because there's been documents that have been revealed from inside the company. We're talking about Frances Haugen’s revelation about Meta. The Facebook whistleblower dumped a whole trove of documents out into the public domain that sort of revealed the inner workings of Facebook in its algorithm. We're talking about plaintiffs coming to, to judges and saying, we were hurt by these products and they are products.” So now it's time to see if a judge agrees that meta in its algorithm, TikTok, and its algorithm, is that a product? Can it be considered faulty? Was it designed poorly? Was the user warned that they could be hurt by the product? That's the question here.

NIALA: We've talked about advocates, we've talked about courts, and we've talked about companies. What about parents?

ASHLEY: So big tech would have you think that parents want to play a huge role in policing their kids' use of social media, which as we all know, isn't really realistic. So what we've been hearing from tech companies is that we have parent centers, we have places where you can go to figure out limits for your kids for social media. But, you know, that doesn't always work in practice and parents can be resentful that they would have to play such a big role in making sure their kid isn't sucked in by Instagram.

NIALA: What are you watching for next here then?

ASHLEY: In the backdrop here is a Supreme Court case that's coming up this year that will possibly narrow Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is normally tech's first line of defense in a courtroom when someone is trying to hold them liable for something happened on the platform. If that gets narrowed, these types of cases could be a lot easier to bring.

NIALA: Ashley Gold covers tech for Axios from Washington. Thanks, Ashley.

ASHLEY: Thank you.

NIALA: Coming up: the classified documents discovered in an offsite office of then- Vice President Biden.


What we know about the classified documents found from Biden’s VP days

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Attorneys for President Biden say they found a small number of classified documents in an office of then-Vice President Biden back in November. Details about the contents of the documents have not been confirmed, though CNN reports that one source says they included U.S. intelligence memos and briefings related to Ukraine, Iran and the U.K.

Axios’ Sophia Cai has been following the story.

Sophia, how has the Department of Justice responded to this?

SOPHIA: So, Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a U.S. attorney in Chicago. And he is one of a very few remaining Trump appointed U.S. attorneys, to take the lead in investigating this. And what this means is that, that US attorney will work with FBI agents to sort of figure out where did the documents originate from, who knew that they were being transferred to this private office at Penn that Biden, occasionally used, who knew that they were being stored there, these are all questions that the U.S. attorney as well as FBI, will be looking to answer by talking to witnesses.

NIALA: Of course this sounds very familiar because we have been going through a classified document situation with former President Trump. How similar and how different are these two cases.

SOPHIA: It is the same investigatory process and the same questions that they'll be asking. The answers to those questions, including how many documents, was there any obstruction? Are there going to be any false statements made by witnesses? Those answers look very different at this point, there's a very small number of documents, you know, with this Biden case there was alleged obstruction going on. With Trump, you know, it looks like not so much at this moment with the Biden case given Biden's council at the White House has said that they turned them over as soon as they were found, in the private office. So the way that they've responded to it looks very different as well as the volume of documents.

NIALA: Axios’ Political Reporter, Sophia Cai. Thanks

SOPHIA: Thank you.

More deaths in California as winter storms rage on

NIALA: Now some climate headlines for you:

At least 17 people have died in a series of unrelenting winter storms that continue to pummel California.

GAVIN NEWSOM: We've had less people die in the last two years of major wildfires in California that have died since New Year's Day related to this weather in California.

NIALA: That’s Governor Gavin Newsom at a news conference yesterday from Santa Cruz County .

In the past several weeks rainfall in nearly all of the state has been 400% to 600% above average. On Monday, The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for 90% of California’s population.

The latest deadly storm has triggered evacuations and the closure of schools and major roads across the state because of the threat of torrential rain, widespread flooding and landslides, according to The National Weather Service. An estimated 180,000 customers were without power yesterday afternoon.

While there may be a break for a few days this week, storms are expected through the end of the month.

In Europe, an unprecedented heat wave hit the continent this month and broke thousands of temperature records. On New Year’s Day, at least eight European countries recorded their warmest January day ever: Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Belarus, Lithuania, Denmark and Latvia.

Globally, the last eight years were the warmest ever recorded, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service. The ranking, released yesterday, shows the planet continues its long-term warming trend.

But, for a bit of good environmental news… the hole in the ozone over Antarctica is on track to be fully healed in the coming decades. That’s according a new report from the United Nations. This comes more than 35 years after the signing of the Montreal Protocol, an international consensus to stop producing harmful chemicals that destroy the ozone. Here’s Axios’ Andrew Freedman’s take on this news:

ANDREW FREEDMAN: So the ozone layers gradual healing is a victory not only for global environmental diplomacy, but it's also a victory for human health because the ozone hole really threatened human health by letting in more ultraviolet radiation from the sun causing dramatically increased rates of skin cancer, cataracts, and potential crop damage.

So it’s fabulous that we're seeing this progress now. But the way I look at it, the Montreal protocol was enacted in 1989 and we're gonna be seeing the full payoff of it potentially in 2045, 2050. And that shows you how delayed the progress can be in some of these environmental challenges, and that is similar to the way that climate change works, where you start seeing the gains in the near term, but the full payoff comes later.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! Tomorrow on the show we’ll dig into the ongoing Cuban and Haitian migrant crisis in South Florida – please be sure to text me if you have thoughts or questions about this story: 202-918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

In the latest series of Wondery’s podcast “Business Wars,” a scandal upends the art world. Auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s put their legacies at risk and nearly destroyed themselves in the process. Listen to “Business Wars” on Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts."

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