A few nights ago, I walked in on my 14-year-old son to find him watching a YouTube documentary on the formation of modern Israel.
I was delighted to see his interest in history – unforced by me, no less – but I quickly noticed that something else was going on: there was a row of boxes at the bottom of his screen, each labeled with a name. My son had taken it upon himself to mount a seminar of sorts for school friends on the Israeli narrative regarding Israel and Gaza.
Later that evening I pressed him more about his session. It turned out his peers had been challenging him with pro-Hamas propaganda, to the point he felt an intervention necessary. And how were 14-year-olds Kiwi kids in rural New Zealand absorbing all these pro-terror and antisemitic talking points? My friends and I certainly weren’t inside any of the details of Cold War skirmishes at their age.
I chased the strange cocktail of admiration for my son and profound sadness at the state of it all down with a difficult inner wrestle with my free speech principles. Was it free speech if children were actively being polluted with fashionable bigotry? What sort of counter-educational model could possibly take on the world’s most popular app among this vulnerable age range?
I am not alone in my concern. Republican nominee Nikki Haley had recently raised a vociferous call to arms, pushing for the banishment of Chinese-owned TikTok from the American digital landscape altogether. This followed the emergence of young users who, embroiled in the Israel-Hamas conflict, enthusiastically sought to spread Osama Bin Laden’s venomous missive “Letter to America,” that the butcher had written in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
For Haley, the “Letter to America” trend perfectly demonstrated the way foreign adversaries were exploiting the digital playground to disseminate anti-American propaganda among the most impressionable. Other nations had already acted, such as Nepal and India, in the face of threats to their national ethos. So, why not the land of the free?
TikTok sought to cut Haley off at the pass, pulling the videos down and claiming “Letter to America” to be a gross violation of their anti-terrorism policy. Haley also had to suffer accusations of hypocrisy from the pro-censorship Left that she, and many on the Right, had claimed to stand against.
Yet, this rabbit hole runs deeper. A research report by NewsGuard, claimed that when TikTok users seek information on critical news stories, a startling 20% of the videos will misinform. By contrast, Google could be trusted to deliver verifiable, less polarizing information, considerably reducing the flow of misinformation. Good for Google, but little consolation for parents and society at large seeing how TikTok outperformed the larger competitor within the youth demographic.
But we can’t blame malicious foreign actors alone. Local Left-wing political parties sense an advantage in a younger voting bloc and are courting the young (campaigning to lower the voting age to 16) while simultaneously embracing antisemitism and establishing it as a pillar in their respective manifestos. Their use of ‘River to the Sea’ could’ve been once sold as clumsy, but choosing to publicly lead chants of the genocidal Hamas slogan, only a month after the Oct 7th pogrom, was a calculated Hard-Right turn.
Will such parties see any issue with polluting 16-year-olds with such pro-terror slogans? Demented narratives that position the slave-owning hyper-racist Houthi as heroic? Jews as colonisers, their claim of indigeneity just the next Jewish scam?
They’re champing at the bit.
We’re standing at a precarious juncture, with our children viewed as the prize of an assortment of rancid ideologues. While censorship may not be the most effective path, it can’t be left to Jewish children alone to inoculate their peers from today’s disinformation problem.
What seems certain, however, is the best argument against lowering the voting age is not the question of age at all, but the cultural moment we live in. With identity politics now entering its degenerate stage, our kids would be safest locked down in the basement, while we all weather the storm.