Tusk, Gen Z, And Tech

With his diverse background as a venture capitalist, political strategist, philanthropist, and writer, Bradley Tusk is intensely curious. Today Tusk’s concerns often center on social media — and its impact on young users. “We have this incredibly toxic internet with really perverse incentives,” said Tusk at a recent public discussion on politics, media, and change.To explore the state of Gen Z’s thinking on media, tech, and politics, Tusk invited two smart young activists onto his weekly podcast “Firewall.”He began by asking both about their hopes, dreams, and fears, asking, “What keeps you up at night?”“I think my biggest fear is that those plans that I’ve made because of the access to information that I’ve had [through the internet] aren’t plans that I can follow through on,” said Avalon Zborovsky-Fenster. “Whether that’s because of climate change, the way that social media is transforming our global landscape, or because of political divisions that are rising into violence.”Zborovsky-Fenster is studying the intersection of technology law and ethics at Barnard and is a member of the Sustainable Media Center (SMC) board of directors. She has more than two million social media followers.“Our generation has unprecedented success and opportunity, but that same force also comes with a duty and responsibility,” said Aidan Kohn-Murphy, a rising sophomore at Harvard and founder of Gen Z for Change, a non-profit advocacy group that uses social media to promote civil discourse and political action, and also a SMC Board advisor. “I think that because we’ve grown up with technology we are seeing things that previous generations would never have. That means we are seeing first hand the evils of our world and the injustices that are happening… it is exciting and it is terrifying.”Exciting and terrifying, indeed.Tusk then asked how Gen Z was dealing with info overload: “Because there’s so much information coming at all of us all the time, do you think that you’ve developed filters…”And here, Aidan shared that the distinctions between media sources wasn’t something Gen Z focused on.“The way that I view legacy media — what my parents read — I try to just find a good reporting, uh, everywhere. I mean there’s very good reporting on TikTok… So, I try to just find good reporting everywhere.”But fact-checking in real-time was something Cohen-Murphy worried about, noting, “There’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation on social media but kids aren’t gonna start watching CNN.”Is the solution holding platforms responsible? Tusk asked his guests if removing the platform shield law Section 230 could make social media platforms more reticent to allow the perverse incentives of toxic content to be held responsible.Here, on policy, the Gen Z guest has strong feelings.“When we come to tech policy — the Kid’s Online Safety Act — I’m generally a supporter of KOSA. If they reformed a couple of troubling parts, but I’m a fan of that piece of legislation generally,” said Cohen-Murphy.“I think there’s the idea that abolition of negative things is the solution but in reality, if you get rid of Section 230 there are also a lot of consequences,” said Zborovsky-Fenster. “It’s very clear that Section 230 has been a defensive mechanism for some of the biggest human rights violations on the internet that we’ve seen so I’d be all for getting rid of Section 230 if we had a comprehensive framework.“It’s clear that social media is having a wide-ranging impact on Gen Z, and there is no simple solution.Says Zborovsky-Fenster: “I imagine a political, social, and economic framework that acknowledges the digital landscape as just that: a landscape. You can’t tackle issues of social media without looking at AI, and you can’t look at issues like AI without looking at digital discrimination and the digital divide in this country.”And just so we don’t miss the point, Cohen-Murphy sends out a strong wakeup call: “If you’re Gen X or older and you don’t understand why young people are so depressed just look around. If you don’t get at some points hopeless and sad just at various points then you’re not paying attention.”And then, the conversation ends on this optimistic note:Says Avalon: I’m a very serious proponent of intergenerational collaboration those have truly been my most meaningful experiences.And Aidan agrees: “So, like actually talk to young people about what they care about as an equal. Don’t be afraid to talk to us like like we want to work with you. We don’t bite.”You can listen to the full podcast here:

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