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Age Gating

Scott Galloway@profgalloway

Published on June 28, 2024

I’m in a dark place. I just watched democracy collapsing as a con man abused an old man. I haven’t hit rock bottom yet, so let’s discuss social media and age-gating.

Addiction & Reach

Social media is unprecedented in its reach and addictive potential — a bottomless dopa bag that fits in your pocket. For kids it poses heightened risks. The evidence is overwhelming and has been for a while. It just took a beat to absorb how brazen the lies were — “We’re proud of our progress.” Social media can be dangerous. That doesn’t make it net “bad” — there’s plenty of good things about it. But similar to automobiles, alcohol, and AK-47s, it has a mixed impact on our lives. It presents dangers. And one of the things a healthy society does is limit the availability of dangerous products to children, who lack the capacity to use them safely. Yet, two decades into the social media era, we permit unlimited, all-ages access to this dangerous, addictive product. The reason: incentives. Specifically, the platforms, dis-incentivized to age-gate their products, throw sand in the gears of any effort to limit access. To change the outcome, we must change the incentives.

Adult Swim

I’m a better person when I drink, more interesting and more interested. One of the reasons I work out so much is so I can continue to drink — muscle absorbs alcohol better than fat does. Kids are different, and we’ve long been comfortable treating them differently. In 1838, Wisconsin forbid the selling of liquor to minors without parental consent, and, by 1900, state laws setting minimum drinking ages were common. There’s a good case to be made that the U.S. alcohol limit of 21 is too high, but nobody would argue we should dispense with age-gating booze altogether.

That trend has paralleled laws restricting childhood access to other things. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, yet courts don’t blink at keeping guns out of the hands of children, even as they dismantle every other limitation on gun ownership. If there’s a lobbying group trying to give driver’s licenses to 13-year-olds, I can’t find it. Age of consent laws make sex with children a crime; minors are not permitted to enter into contracts; we limit the hours and conditions in which they can work; they cannot serve in the military or on juries, nor are they allowed to vote. (That last one we may want to reconsider.) These are not trivial things. On the contrary, we exclude children from or substantially limit their participation in many core activities of society.

Late Night With the Dawg

The only time I have appeared on late-night TV was when Jimmy Fallon mocked me — showing a CNN video clip where I said “I’d rather give my 16-year-old a bottle of Jack and weed than Instagram.” Four thousand likes and 265,000 views later, it appears America agrees. My now almost 17-year-old son has engaged with all three substances. Alcohol and Instagram make him feel worse afterward — not sure about weed. However, he is restricted from carrying a bottle of Jack in his pocket, and his parents would ask for a word if his face was hermetically sealed to a bong. Note: Spare me any bullshit parenting advice from nonparents or therapists whose kids don’t come home for the holidays.

He, we, and society restrict his access to these substances. And, when he abstains from drinking/smoking, he isn’t sequestered from all social contact and the connective tissue of his peer group. We freaked out when we found (as you will if you have boys) porn on one of his devices. But the research is clear: We should be more alarmed when we find Instagram/Snap/TikTok on his phone. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are the pornographers of our global economy. Actually, that’s unfair to pornographers.

Peer Pressure

Age-gating social media is hugely popular. Over 80% of adults believe parental consent should be required for social media, and almost 70% want platforms to limit the time minors spend on them.

Those numbers are from last fall, before my NYU colleague Jonathan Haidt published The Anxious Generation, which builds on the work of Jean Twenge and others, making the most forceful case yet that social media is hurting our children. Reviewing the shocking increase in depression, self-harm, and general suffering our children are experiencing and the explanations offered by the platform apologists, Professor Haidt highlights the twin specters of social media and mobile devices and the lasting damage they’re doing to a generation. Unconstrained smartphone use, Haidt observes, has been “the largest uncontrolled experiment humanity has ever performed on its own children.” And the results are in.

Legislatures are responding. States from California to Utah to Louisiana have passed laws that limit access to social media based on age. If you haven’t noticed any change in the behavior of the platforms, however, that’s because courts have blocked nearly all of them. A social media and digital commerce trade group called NetChoice is quick to sue any state that interferes with its members’ ability to exploit children for maximum profit.


Judges are siding with the platforms, and probably not because they enjoy seeing depressed teenagers fed content glorifying self-harm, or teenage boys committing suicide after being sextorted. The platforms and other opponents of these laws, such as the ACLU, make two main points: First, they claim that verifying age online is too complicated, requiring the collection of all sorts of information about users, and won’t work in all cases. Second, requiring users to collect this information creates free speech, privacy, and security concerns. (The platforms also deny their products are harmful to children.)

On their face, these points are valid. It is more difficult to confirm age online, where there’s no clerk at the counter who can ask to see your driver’s license and reference your face. And these platforms have proven reckless with personal data. It’s sort of a “they’re so irresponsible, but we can’t take action” dilemma.

But these objections are not about age verification, children’s rights, free speech, or privacy. They are concerns about the platform companies’ capabilities. Their arguments boil down to the assertion that these multibillion-dollar organizations, who’ve assembled vast pools of human capital that wield godlike technology, can’t figure out how to build effective, efficient, constitutionally compliant age-verification systems to protect children. If this sounds like bullshit, trust your instincts.

Illusion of Complexity

This isn’t a conversation re the realm of the possible, but the profitable. When you pay an industry not to understand something, it will never figure it out. (Just look at the tobacco industry’s inability to see a link with cancer.) What’s more challenging, figuring out if someone is younger than 16, or building a global real-time communication network that stores a near-infinite amount of text, video, and audio retrievable by billions of simultaneous users in milliseconds with 24/7 uptime? The social media giants know where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and if you’re experiencing suicidal ideation … but they can’t figure out your age. You can’t make this shit up.

The platforms could design technology that reliably collects sufficient information to confirm a user’s age, then wipes the information from its servers. They could create a private or public entity that processes age verification anonymously. Remember the blockchain? Isn’t this exactly the kind of problem it was supposed to solve? They could deploy AI to estimate when a user is likely underage based on their online behaviors, and seek age verification from at-risk people. If device manufacturers (or just the device OS duopoly of Apple and Alphabet) were properly incentivized, they could implement age verification on the device itself. (This is what Meta says it wants, when it isn’t fighting age-verification requirements.) Or, crazy idea, they could stop glorifying suicide and pushing pornography to everyone.

The reason Zuck and the other Axis powers haven’t built age verification into their platforms is it will reduce their profits (because they will serve fewer ads to kids), which will suppress their stock prices, and the job of a public company CEO is to increase the stock price. Period, full stop, end of strategic plan. So long as the negative impact to the stock price caused by the bad PR of teen suicide and depression is less than the positive impact of the incremental ad revenue obtained through unrestricted algorithmic manipulation of those teens, the rational, shareholder-driven thing to do is fight age-verification requirements.

Flip the Script

If we want the platforms to make their products safe for children, we need to change the incentives — force them to bear the cost of their damage. Internalize the externalities, in economist-speak. There are three forces powerful enough to do this: the market, plaintiff lawyers, and the government. The market solution would be to let consumers decide if they want to be exploited and manipulated. And by consumers, I mean “teenagers.” One big shortcoming of this approach is that teenagers are idiots. I have proof here, as I’m raising two and used to be one. My job as their dad is to be their prefrontal cortex until it shows up. I told my son on a Thursday it was Thursday, and he disagreed.

The next approach is to let the platforms do whatever they want, but if they harm someone, let that person sue them for damages. This is how we police product safety in almost all contexts. Did your car’s air bag explode shrapnel into your neck? Sue Takata. Did talcum powder give you cancer? Sue J&J. Did your phone burn the skin off your leg? Sue Samsung. People don’t like plaintiff lawyers, but lawsuits are a big part of the reason that more products don’t give you cancer or scald you. Nobody can successfully sue social media platforms, however, because of a 28-year-old law, known as Section 230, which gives them blanket protection against litigation.

I’ve written about the need to limit Section 230 before, and whenever I do, a zombie apocalypse of free-speech absolutists is unleashed. The proposition remains unchanged, however: If social media platforms believe they’ve done everything reasonable to protect children from the dangers of their product, then let them prove it in court. Or, better yet, let the fear of tobacco/asbestos-shaped litigation gorging on their profits motivate them to age-gate their products.

Finally, the government can go after companies whose products harm consumers. The Federal Trade Commission has fined Meta $5 billion over privacy violations to no apparent effect. This was perfect, except it was missing a 0. For these firms, $5 billion is a nuisance, not a deterrent. There’s a bill in the Senate right now, the Kids Online Safety Act, which would give the FTC new authority to go after platforms which fail to build guardrails for kids. It’s not without risk — some right-wing groups are supporting it because they believe it can be used to suppress LGBT content or anything else the patriarchy deems undesirable. But I have more faith in Congress’s ability to refine a law than I do in the social platforms’ willingness to change without one.

Until we change the incentives and put the costs of these platforms where they belong, on the platforms themselves, they will not change. Legislators trying to design age-gating systems or craft detailed policies for platforms are playing a fool’s game. The social media companies can just shoot holes in every piece of legislation, fund endless lawsuits, and deploy their armies of lobbyists and faux heat shields (Lean In), all the while making their systems ever more addictive and exploitative.

Or maybe we have it wrong, and we should let our kids drink, drive, and join the military at 12. After slitting their wrists, survivors often get tattoos to cover the scars. Maybe teens should skip social media and just get tattoos. I warned you … dark.

Life is so rich,

P.S. We will be taking a break next week for the 4th of July holiday.

P.P.S. Join a free event on July 16, where Dan Shipper from Every will share his top 10 AI use cases from hundreds of executive interviews. RSVP here.




  1. Bill J says:

    I think the country would be interested in a Harris-Obama Democratic ticket.
    The 22nd amendment doesn’t prohibit Obama from running for VP and serving as President if required. He just can’t be ELECTED as President.
    Anyway, if needed, that’s an interesting idea for a ticket.
    Trump would be soooo upset at having to run against the two of them.

  2. Polena Barbagallo says:

    This is not new news is it really? This has been around as long as Mark realised he had young- very young users on his platform. Move fast and break things….
    Fixing them later obviously isn’t happening, but I think us founders need to encourage them along with our innovation. Make a good case to start…

  3. Christine Amos says:

    Thank you, Scott.This was a particularly great post! Unflinching and spot on. I have shared this letter with my children who are now parents- they get it. As a mother who raised two daughters and a son (who thankfully didn’t grow up with social media until they were in their teens) I can’t imagine a more damaging and addictive instrument to release on children as it exists- unchecked and addictive by design. Zuckerberg and Sandburg are so blatantly disingenuous and the evil (no hyperbole) programmers who devise algorithms to pull children down destructive rabbit holes. The profits are too great. We can’t rely on Meta, X, or other platforms to reliably self police. Politicians are in their pocket. It’s up to the adults to save our children. Maybe one day these companies will be held accountable, much like the tobacco industry (or Purdue Pharma- I wish!) and be forced to give a portion of their substantial profits to mental health or other services for children. Schools are slowly standing up by not allowing phone use during class time. Really good post and thanks for being realistic and not holding back!

  4. Marcio Kaiser says:

    i am a regular and pleased subscriber,
    I hate to see parents and their children glues to an phone/ipad in a restaurant;parents should refrain from it and say NO to kids(this is just an example of excesses)

  5. Bob Webster says:

    Totally agree with your view that social media companies need to be held accountable for the effect their products have. They somehow gained a special “untouchable” status 10 years ago due their pure newness, but there’s no logic whatever for continuing that status now. The only reason they fight like hell to avoid the kind of responsibility that traditional media companies face is that they know it will impact their profits – they don’t give a hoot about their users.

  6. Scott says:

    Great article and your logic is, as usual, powerful and hard hitting – straight to the point. Please refrain from your political jabs as they detract from your core argument. “Con man”? Really? vs. “old man” – get real – if you are going to insult Trump at least call out Biden for what he really is…a corrupt and degenerate fool in cognitive decline – they are both 3 years apart and both old. See how you derailed me from your core point here of preventing child suicide?

  7. Petar says:

    Scott I struggle to reconcile you views on the appropriateness of age gating for kids for a variety of things and yet you have said you’re okay with kids taking puberty blockers or gender reassignment surgeries.

  8. Brenda says:

    I fucking love you Mr Galloway. Every time I read one of your posts, I wish the entire world was reading it with me. I have children the same age as yours I am the same age as you. And some days, I feel like you’re the only person who actually has a clue as to what’s going on in the world. Thank you so much for your posts they work to make the world a better place.

  9. Todd L says:

    As a Gen X’er, I think it’s only fitting that we were completely forgotten on the Prevalence of Anxiety by Age group.

    Love this Scott, keep ’em coming. I can’t believe I don’t pay for this.

  10. Anitra Hall says:

    Preach the word brother!

  11. Frank Schieber says:

    The only notion that comforts me about the last 48 hours of disappointment in our presidential choices is that the only predictability about the next 5 to 7 months will be its complete and utter lack of predictability. The choices we have now may very well be different come Nov. 5, and neither candidate may have a say in that matter.

    Regarding social media and age-gating, I also expect sooner or later that even the kids will get tired of leasing their digital presence to FB, LI, X, TikTok, Insta, etc., and start owning theirs. Much like No Mercy/No Malice. Let’s sure hope so for the sake of social discourse.

  12. Will Dorrance says:


    I really love your post but would enjoy them more if they were compressed to about half their length and still get your point across. Thank you for what you do.


    • James says:

      I agree. I tend to scan. There is always a kernel in there but sometimes the bloviation obfuscates the gist.

      • Todd L says:

        I’ll take the other side of this. I appreciate that Scott writes in his “voice”, wouldn’t change a thing.

  13. Dmill says:

    Has anyone seen prof G smile or laugh…….ever?

  14. Ralf says:

    Device makers should add a password protected age token feature that can be set by parents on the device of their kids. Then it would be easy for any website or app to check for “old enough” and if not restrict access. Life is so easy.

  15. Lisa Cline says:

    OMG. This is brilliant.

    To Jenny Mirken, below, I’m “aligned” (to use a b.s. bingo word). I was on FoxNews last year saying that toxic TikTok should pay kids for all the data they scarf up. If kids are a commodity, they should have some dough to show for it.

  16. Sam C says:

    Excellent post. I don’t know what it will take to get us to change our laws about social media, but we need to get there. This time however, this is not a uniquely American problem, most of the world has this problem.

    • Marek Lenz says:

      I fully support age verification for children to use social media. In Poland it would be technically very easy to implement. Just use sign-in method with online banking. It is used for many public and government services in Poland and is not exchaning any private data. Almost all kids age 16 in Poland are having a bank account and debit card. This sign-in mechanism is used by more than 20 mllion people in Poland.

  17. Jenny Mirken says:

    Love that you’re passionate about this issue, Scott. But do you really believe that getting rid of social media gets rid of dangerous content for kids? If so, I’m not sure you understand the Internet. I’ll say it again — forget suing those companies which takes forever and results in a one time judgment that then has to be split how? To whom? Instead, levy an annual 1% “Kids Tax” on these filthy rich companies’ monstrous revenue and use it to reinvest in our high schools so kids spend less time online altogether because they’re too busy doing REAL social activities at extracurricular programs and community centers. Like IRL stuff – remember that?

  18. Peter I says:

    Why stop with kids? These platforms have proven to be a net negative for society as a whole and have created divisions between huge swaths of people by design. Why aren’t more concerned about getting people in government that understand AI and algorithms so that we can produce thoughful regulations instead of worrying about border crossing that affect less than 1% of the population. We’re sleeping on regulating the most harmful influences on our lives because the addiction is so widespread.

  19. C Cook says:

    How do Professors and lecturers who teach smart, well off, sophisticated young people how to manipulate less smart and less sophisticated in their MBA courses feel about Social Media? Well, they publicly hate it of course. Why FB is the devil! X a propaganda machine! Likely those Profs also teach Marketing and Brand Management courses full of Case Studies on how to USE such channels to sell whiskey, malt liquor, hard ciders, and other additive substances. Cool people don’t better themselves with books, Community College classes, or cultural events. They go to $250 concerts and buy $200 AirJordans. Just view the output of any MBA campaign put out on Social Media.

  20. Alex Dormont says:

    I believe the one abusing the old man is none other than Jill Biden and her conspiring WH lackeys and press corps

    Trump is a con man no less than any other politician, hes just less subtle

    • Peter I says:

      The difference with Trump is that he preys on the uneducated by giving them someone to blame instead of addressing their concerns in good faith. Conservatism has generally been about a different philosophy in lifting up society but now it is about us vs them. It’s proven to be a very effective political tool for a party that has been slipping from relevance over the past thirty years.

  21. Jason Wright says:

    Great content as always.
    Re: “Con man abuse an old man..” I think the media has abused its privilege. They reveled in Trump’s rating and revenue generating march to the White Hose then they told us President Biden was at the top of his game.

    Now we have both the candidates they helped create and last night they were trying to throw both of them away.

    I just hope after all this Americans will take a much much more intellectual approach to understanding what makes America different and good and seek out leaders who will uphold the limits of government and protect the sovereignty of the individual.

    As for social media-Great takes. I breathe a sigh of relief both my daughters had just come of age when social media reached its zenith. I feel so sorry for new parents faced with navigating those waters.

    Thanks Prof G

  22. Salvatore Larosa says:

    Just do as Germany does for age verification to let people access porn sites: use verification by Post Offices. It is simple, it is 100% secure and trustworthy, it does not share any personal data with platforms

  23. James says:

    I had a thought about age verification: ask for the ADA to be amended to apply fully to all Websites with more than 1 million daily visitors – and make Age gate systems and identity verification the only allowed way to keep bots and AI scrapers out of your website. Create an equal access provision. And prohibit all “Sign-in and Registration Captchas. ( Some “bots” are accessibility systems – therefore, websites would No longer be allowed to use obfuscation methods to prevent bots or dumb CAPTCHAs in attempt to differentiate between humans and bots.)

    Part two would be have a special exception allowing Age verification systems, instead, which securely confirm the visitor’s Identity and current Age according to real-time check of a government-issued ID with optional biometrics through 3rd party service operators to be certified and approved by a government entity, whose service is required to undertake all industry standard and reasonable safeguards to ensure all copies of real name, personal, and identification data from that verification prompt are used for no other purpose, remain confidential, do not leave that system, and are destroyed expeditiously within no more than an hour after a verification attempt began.”

  24. Sam Rissmiller says:

    Seriously, you start off with a personal attack in a stupid statement about the debate, Trump, and Biden. I thought you were seriously above that. Didn’t even bother to read further. I get that you are still processing what was said, what you heard, and what you saw – say that, and then come back with some substantive analysis.

    • Nicole Lindsley says:

      You did not read past one sentence? You missed out.

    • CC says:

      Read the flippen‘ piece before whining.

    • Peter I says:

      This is a clear example of the power of identity politics. You were so upset to see someone disagree with you that you were unable to distill anything from what they actually said. This is how Trump’s America works.

      • David, Dei says:

        Peter, you do know that people on the left are actually more likely to defriend someone based on their political views?

  25. Anton says:

    Great post!!!

  26. mcgiveittome says:

    I’m 36, and I am so grateful social media was in its infancy while I was in high school (AIM, MySpace, college email-only FB.) There’s no way some of my peers would have made it out of school alive with these versions of social media.

  27. Dick Gamper says:

    One of your best, Scott. Have navigated children (twin boys and a girl) but now worry about 7 grandchildren.

  28. dydactyl says:

    Well, look on the bright side, you and all your friends can spend more time imbibing now that the turnip’s days are over.

  29. Rocky Longworth says:

    Hi Scott! I’ll take your dark side over social media’s bright side any day! BTW, social media doesn’t have a bright side, at least not that I’ve witnessed.

  30. Steve Schell says:

    When TikTok fed my then 12-year-old daughter a video of some kid blowing his brains out (literally, this is not some kind of exaggeration), I become a bit of a zealot on this topic. And yet, to Scott’s point, taking your kids off social media just isolates them from their peers. We need ALL KIDS to dump it simultaneously and permanently. Zuck and all his fellow exploiters of public attention span are the worst thing that has happened to anyone born after ~1995.

  31. jeffrey says:

    Nice charts? Correlation does not imply causation. Remember? It’s a huge stretch to blame social media for all that is wrong. Reasonable guard rails… Sure. The problems you note are more about parenting than social media.

    • CC says:

      You can’t be serious with this comment.

    • Y says:

      Well, people were foolishly blaming kids’ problems on pandemic school building closures, because they needed another talking point to support school privatization efforts. I’m glad that one of the true culprits is out. The problems we’ve seen since 2021 were there before COVID. Like many things in society, COVID just put a spotlight on it and made it bigger.

  32. Chris Amendola says:

    It has been said about many recent conspiracy theories – ‘they(theorists) get the feelings right but the facts wrong’. I think about this quote every time I read something new from Jonathan Haidt, or Prof G writes and it strikes me that the Q cult was all about evil cabals sucking the life force out of our children. Go figure.

  33. Gerry Lopez says:

    I warched the same ass-kicking you watched. but I followed that by watching (by mistake) Dr Phil’s very thoughtful interview of RFK Jr. so while you think Democracy is collapsing because of the two elderly citizens on stage last night, I think Democracy is in peril because of who was NOT on stage. say what want about DJT, and I expect all to be negative (and true!) but at least he got on that stage last night through a democratic contest. the other guy, his party blocked democracy to make sure he was the guy there. hell, the DNC is suing RFK so block his run. how is that pro-democracy? I don’t have the benefit of a superior education from NYU (instead I attended that asshole factory Harvard) so please enlighten me. These pro-democracy stalwarts are cancel-culturing one of their own so their preferred guy is the only guy.

  34. Rene Toender says:

    I can sympathize with Americans after the debate on June 27. Your choices come November are obviously less than optimal.
    However, in all fairness; it wasn’t a con man that abused an old man in Atlanta last night. It was that old man’s handlers and his wife. It should never had come to this. There, I said it. Flame on.

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