“When I sat there, I really felt as though it was the most important conversation that I was going to have in my life. It's incredibly daunting,” she told me last week. “But also I think for me it’s important to understand that there was space given for a young person to not only represent themselves, but the story of so many other young people who had been harmed.”
Lembke is not alone -- and now with the organization she co-chairs, Design It For Us, she’s organizing young people to fight back. “This has been something I've dealt with my entire life, having the Internet and social media be an extension of myself and my social life, engaging on platforms like Instagram since the age of 12. And since the age of 12 I did also feel the negative consequences of an unregulated environment where Big Tech was able to use my anxiety/ depression to impact on my body image.”
While Lembke’s using advocacy to fight for change, Matthew Bergman is using the courts, with his organization the Social Media Victims Law Center. “We currently represent about 2,300 families whose children have been injured or killed from social media,” said Bergman on a public Zoom forum. “As a plaintiff's lawyer for 30 years. I've never had clients less concerned about money and more concerned about accountability.”
For Bergman, this is more than a case, it’s a mission. “These are parents who have lost a child," he said. "There's nothing that will ever bring back the loss and the pain that they feel every day. And to the letter they say one thing. Every one of them says, if through these efforts one family is spared what we're going through, if one set of parents does not have to experience the pain, then all of this has been worth it.”
As the father of two young children, and a reporter who’s covered the changing nature of media for a long time, Brian Stelter is honest about where we’ve found ourselves.
"I look around, having spent the last 20 years covering media and tech feeling like I was theoretically -- you know, right in the thick of it. I should've been able to see what was happening sooner. And now all of us in 2023 look back and we realize what the hell just happened," he said.
"If moral outrage were enough to change these products in these companies. It would have happened already,” said Bergman. "It's going to be a long, hard fight.”
And for Lembke, this is a moment that could promise real change. “I really do believe that this will be a catalyst for greater youth action, mobilization, and public awareness of the issue -- at least the magnitude of how deep and horrific this really can get.”