Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

Members of the Democratic Senate leadership team meet on Capitol Hill.

February 3, 2022

Our Grandparents Shouldn’t Make Our Laws

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Congress is supposed to represent the entire population, but with a disproportionate amount of older senators, it no longer reflects the interests of younger generations. In turn, this makes Congress regressive instead of progressive. I don’t mean progressive in a Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-V.T)/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) Democratic (big D) sense, but progressive in a democratic (little d) sense; the very essence of our government is challenged by the fact that people as old as our grandparents are creating our laws. As competent as they may be, they lack intimate understanding of modern issues and tend to legislate for themselves rather than their successors. 

A great example occurred Oct. 5, 2021, in a hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and a Senate Commerce subcommittee. Haugen claimed that Facebook was knowingly harming teen users on Instagram, especially through certain algorithms that control what shows up on our feeds (like TikTok’s “For You” page). An older senator then asked if they should “stop finsta.” I’m shocked he even knew what a finsta was. Gen Z are some of the only users who find that comment so hilariously oblivious, but it is actually quite troubling that a senator apparently didn’t even do basic research before the hearing. 

He wasted the opportunity to ask a meaningful question to someone knowledgeable on the inner workings of a company so inaccessible to outsiders. Older legislators like these are so out of touch with current issues that they do not even know the right questions to ask, let alone the right regulation to enact. Haugen was forced to explain everything in layman’s terms, spelling out exactly what the Senate should demand from Facebook in future inquiries.

Empirically, social media user demographics greatly vary from the Senate’s demographics. The majority of Facebook users are 18-44 years old, and most Instagram users are 18-30 years old, whereas the average senator is 64 years old. 20 years is a large gap in measuring technological competency, considering how quickly technology and social media have evolved. The first iPhone was released less than 15 years ago, and look where we are now. 

Furthermore, according to the Congressional Research Service, there are only nine engineers and eight software company executives in both chambers of Congress. No other congressperson’s listed occupation regards anything even remotely related to computer science, which might pose an issue if attempting to regulate a media conglomerate as complex as Facebook. Apple didn’t make the first personal computer until after the average senator had already graduated high school; computer science, information technology and data analysis have evolved tenfold since then. Why are we expecting senators to regulate things of which they have no intimate knowledge and do not actively use? 

There is some hope for action — though honestly, not much. It’s been a while since the U.S. government declared war on some big scary entity like drugs or terror, so maybe big tech and social media are next. However, considering how terribly those situations panned out, perhaps that isn’t the most effective route. Realistically, older congresspeople should hire young and adequately-educated staff members to advise on policies; admitting they don’t have skills to make appropriate legislation and proactively addressing the issue is not weak, but reflective of  self-awareness. Furthermore, if there’s an age minimum for being a senator, then there should be an age maximum, too, so as not to have an oversaturation of old lawmakers. 

Lastly, but most importantly, our vote still matters. The midterm elections are less than a year away, and with so many important issues threatening our democracy, it is imperative that you use your constitutional right and vote for people who best represent you and your interests. If an old white guy does it for you, then by all means vote for them, but I think we can do better. 

Lily Kalish is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]