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I was 12 years old when I took my first drag of a cigarette in what would become a 25-year battle with tobacco addiction.

Cigarette and tobacco companies, with their calculated strategy of addiction by design ensnared me and millions of others. They kept us hooked and spent a fortune opposing policies that could save lives.

Today, we face a new breed of addiction peddlers.

Big Tech companies that own Facebook, Instagram, Discord, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok and others are the cigarette and tobacco companies of our children's generation. Cigarettes and tobacco have had little redeeming societal value.

Social media can and does.

But, what benefit it can have is being undermined by the undeniable harm it does.

Social media companies dismiss mounting evidence linking their platforms to deteriorating youth mental health, increases in suicidal ideation and suicide among our young people. They deflect responsibility with hollow promises of content moderation and public relations gimmicks like safety ratings.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates for persons aged 10-14 declined from 2000 to 2007, then nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017.

Today, suicide is a leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 with it being the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24.

What is contributing to this terrifying and tragic increase in suicide deaths among our nation's children?

From 2006 through 2015 YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Discord became public social media platforms.


Where there's smoke, there's fire.

In Minnesota we have an opportunity to lead the charge in protecting our young people by passing legislation called the Minnesota Kids Code. It's one crucial step to demand that social media companies prioritize the safety and well-being of our children over profit margins.

This legislation does not stifle free speech or compromise privacy, block kids from experiencing the positive benefits of social media or impose onerous burdens on the press. It simply demands accountability from those who profit from our children's misery.

Despite the efforts of the authors and supporters of the Minnesota Kids Code to address the concerns and objections of Big Tech, the tech companies are trying to block this legislation in Minnesota.

They are doing the same to federal legislation called the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) that has the bipartisan support of 66 members of the U.S. Senate.


Because any changes to Big Tech's business model of targeting children will cost the companies' money in the fight to save children's lives.

We've seen the strategy before and its impact on the lives of the American people.

In 1954, Big Tobacco began a massive public relations blitz to convince Americans their products were not making people sick or killing them. They spent millions in marketing to assure Americans they were not only studying the issue but were committed to making their products safe.

Today, Big Tech is more sophisticated but no less creative in its public relations efforts. They are members of efforts, or funding efforts, to promote content moderation and safety ratings for social media platforms.

All the while they fight changes to the real solution to saving kids lives: Modifying their platforms and their business models.

Today's Big Tech is our kids Big Tobacco, and the Big Lie is that there is no proof that social media is harming our children's mental health.

The Big Truth from parents is that social media is having a devastating impact on their kids' mental health, and it has resulted in increases in suicidal ideation and suicide.

SAVE-Suicide Awareness Voices of Education has joined a broad bipartisan coalition to support parents and kids and pass KOSA and the Minnesota Kids Code.

SAVE will work with any Big Tech company, organization or association committed to real solutions to protecting children's lives on social media as long as they also support passage of both of these bills.

Big Tech has had the benefit of the doubt for too long.

Too much money has been made at the cost of our children's lives.

It's time we give parents and children the legislation they need to save kids' lives and pass the Minnesota Kids Code in Minnesota and KOSA in Washington, D.C.

Erich E. Mische is the executive director of SAVE-Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. SAVE is a 35-year-old Minnesota-based national nonprofit focused on suicide awareness and prevention through education, training, advocacy and support for suicide loss survivors.