Last week, 30 people sat down for a chef-cooked dinner at a SoHo apartment. The room was full of media leaders, technology activists, and famous TikTok makers -- people who usually never meet, and certainly never brainstorm together. Still, an urgent mission brought them together.
The host of the evening -- venture capitalist and philanthropist Bradley Tusk -- framed the gathering in critical terms. “We're at the point where social media is a highly destructive force, impacting the mental health of teenagers and the validity of our elections,” he said.
The intergenerational nature of the gathering proved Tusk’s point.
Before the group sat down for dinner, 21-year-old Avalon Fenster took a few minutes to make her case for change: “When I was in high school, a very close friend of mine was radicalized, alt-right, online through social media. That person became very, very violent. it completely changed my worldview.”
Today Fenster is about to enter her senior year at Barnard College, Columbia University, double majoring in political science and human rights, and double minoring in philosophy and science, public policy and ethics.
“My generation feels more socially isolated, even though we're more connected as a civilization than we've ever been before,” said Fenster.
Tusk's criticism was even more pointed. “You live in a world where all the economic incentives for all the platforms are to promote toxic content to you because that generates more eyeballs, more clicks, which makes them more money,” he said.
He called for a movement toward mobile voting, and urged everyone to align to sunset the 26-year-old law called Section 230.
Tusk said the lack of liability for social platforms means they have no accountability and no risk when publishing content that they know is harmful to teens.
What made the night different from so many panel discussions or academic debates was an understanding in the room that the urgency required action. The time for debate is over.
Still, listening to the conversations was inspiring. Dylan Troesken, a TikTok creator with 1.7 million followers, had posted just days before about her feelings about the dangerous decline of the state of our country. She was sitting with Aidan Kohn-Murphy (292.5K followers) the founder of GenZ for Change.
Together, Aidan and Dylan posted a TikTok they had just recorded. They were testing chairs. The location? The White House. The video already has 300,000 views.
As the evening ended, it had gotten late. The event was scheduled to wrap up at 8:30 p.m., but the attendees headed for the door at a bit after 10 p.m. A poster that had served to announce the mission of the evening stood by the exit: “Media Matters In Young Lives.”
A room full of people, most of whom had never met before -- and all of whom commented that they had not ever been in a room of such diverse generations -- took pen in hand and signed the poster as they headed out.
“I think there's a real value in intergenerational organizing and collaboration. I think there's a lot to be said about young people leading the charge,” said Fenster. “But the wisdom, experience, knowledge, connections, understanding, nuance that other generations have is critical as well.”
Intergenerational, indeed. Watch for that word -- and this team of change agents -- to drive to put those words into action.