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Defining a high school debating topic 2

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TONY DAVEY: OK. Hey, Maja. How's it going?

MAJA VASIC: Hey, pretty good, thanks.

TONY DAVEY: Excellent. So you're going to help us talk through one of last year's most popular topics. I think it was the actual single most popular topic in the Premier's Debating Challenge for years seven and eight last year. And the topic is that we should never allow people under 18 to use social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

All right, so you're happy to talk us through the kinds of things you'd be looking at and then deliver the opening speech?

MAJA VASIC: Yeah.

TONY DAVEY: OK, great. Let's go.

MAJA VASIC: Cool. So I think when you look at a topic like this, there are two key parts of this topic you need to define or think about in terms of your model. The first is like, what you're looking at in terms of social media sites, what you're choosing to include and what you're choosing to exclude. And the second thing is how you're going to enforce the ban you're putting in place.

I'm going to start with the second issue, which is how you're going to enforce it. I think with a topic like this, as the affirmative team, it can be really, really tempting to go hard and to say, we're going to hunt down-- we're going to find some government way to track down every kid who is using social media. We're going to give them this kind of punishment, or we're going to fine their parents, or we're going to do this, or we're going to do that.

And it feels powerful, I think, to have a powerful model to back up what you think are very important arguments. But the tricky thing about having really harsh enforcement is that, A, it's hard to do, right? It's hard to police every child who might be using social media. And B, it just gets very, very complicated, and it's very hard to say whether it's fair to give somebody a very, very serious punishment for what might not be a very serious crime. So I guess there's good things and bad things about taking a very hard-line approach.

Another thing you might think about doing is having a bit of a more sophisticated registration process that'll prevent kids from registering. So this is something like maybe requiring a mobile phone number to register for a social media website. And then you get sent a verification text. And that makes it harder to register if you're under 18.

Or you might look at something like having a licence requirement, although that's tricky because there are plenty of people over 18 who don't have a licence or who don't have that kind of ID. So that's also a kind of middle ground option.

The other option you can look at is doing what we do under the status quo, which is-- but obviously, with a lower age limit-- so under the status quo, I think, for a lot of sites, the age limit is 13. You've got to be over 13 to use the site. And the way that gets enforced is the site, first of all, has that requirement. When you're signing up, you have to enter your age to prove that you're over that age. And we also put a bit of trust in parents to make sure they're not letting their seven-year-old children sign up to Facebook, and that kind of thing.

I think it's tricky to work out which option of enforcement is the best one, but I think sometimes it is just easiest to go with what we already have and to kind of do what we do under the status quo and extend that just to people over 18, because I think we can trust that most parents will do the right thing and be vigilant about what their teenagers are doing.

And I think we can also probably trust that a lot of teenagers will care at least a little bit about this additional rule. The reason I wouldn't go for a more complicated, more serious form of enforcement is just that you're opening up a lot of really annoying logistical issues for yourself, because the other team will get up and say, yeah, but is it fair to punish people harshly? Yeah, but what if this 13-year-old actually has a mobile phone number, and the mobile phone enforcement doesn't work?

You open up all of these really nitty-gritty issues in the debate that take time away from talking about what you really need to talk about, which is why it's good to get 13- and 14- and 15-year-olds off social media. So I would stick to the status quo option, because we kind of mostly agree that that works for under 13s at the moment.

The second issue then is what we're talking about when we're talking about social media sites and social networking. It's pretty clear that things like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, all of those things already named in the topic fall in that category. But it can become a bit tricky when you want to start thinking about exceptions, the time social media might be good.

So for example, you might say, what about a platform where kids are working together on their homework? What if you have a Messenger group chat, where you're all talking about issues you had with maths in school today. Or what about if a teacher wants to contact you via something like Zoom? Or what about this or what about that?

I think all of those are valid considerations, but the best thing to do is just to put a blanket ban on social networking sites, so to say, no group chats on Messenger, no TikTok, no Zoom calls, none of that. And the reason why it's better to do that is because the minute you open up exceptions to the rule, you kind of reduce the effectiveness of your model. So if people can still communicate on Messenger or on Zoom or on this social networking site that is the exception to the rule, that means that all of your benefits about eliminating social media don't actually manifest because people still have social media. And they can still do all the bad things and experience all the bad things you're going to be talking about in your arguments.

I think, again, it also just makes the debate a bit messier than it needs to be, because the crux of the debate isn't really whether this nitty-gritty site should count as a social networking site or as an educational resource or whatever. So you're just opening yourself up to a world of just unnecessary detail, when what you need to be talking about is social media and its implications for kids.

The only thing I would say there, though, is that in the current circumstances, given that all school has moved online, and we're in this pandemic, I probably would have an exception for online learning right now just because there's no other way to learn. Like if your teacher is not going to contact you via Zoom, they can't talk to you in the classroom or anything like that.

But that's obviously a huge exception because we're living in very, very extraordinary times. So ordinarily, I wouldn't really have any exceptions to this, but you could make one for the current circumstances.

TONY DAVEY: OK, yeah, I thought that was excellent. So are you now happy, having done all of that prep work and thinking about the definition, to actually deliver it as if you were in a live debate? I guess what we're looking for is for you to give an opening, a context where you talk about, just for 30 seconds, what you think the biggest problem in the debate is, and then launch into that definition that you would give if you were in a real live debate, just like we talked about?

MAJA VASIC: Yep, OK.

TONY DAVEY: OK, great. Well, in that case, to open the debate, please welcome the first speaker of the affirmative. Yay. Whoo, Maja. Yay.

MAJA VASIC: So social media is a place where a lot of teenagers experience a lot of cyberbullying, where they may find themselves addicted and wasting a lot of their time, and where they will find themselves immersed in a lot of unrealistic and problematic images. For those reasons, we think that social media should be banned for all people under 18.

What do we think this looks like? We think that by social networking sites, we mean all of them, so things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but also things like TikTok and Zoom. We wouldn't make an exception for kids to talk to their classmates or to their teachers, except in the current exceptional circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, where obviously all of your learning has to be online.

In terms of enforcement, we will trust parents and sites to enforce this ban. We think that under the status quo, parents and websites already do quite a good job of enforcing this kind of restriction for people under the age of 13. So we think it makes sense and would be quite effective just to extend this to under 18.

TONY DAVEY: That's perfect. That's exactly what I reckon you would do in a debate about this. And of course, that's out of the way really quickly, and then you can get on with the actual issues in the debate and have a fight about whether social media is productive or harmful for people under 18.

All right, fantastic. Thanks, Maja. Brilliant. We'll see you later. Thanks for chatting us through that.


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