So much to cover this week. So let’s dive in with some nasty news about the device many of you are probably using to read these words right now: your phone.
If you’ve ever wondered how dirty it is—as in, how much bacteria calls your precious smartphone home—the answer is really dirty. In fact, experts say that your friendly online portal is teeming with seven times more bacteria than a toilet.
Why so filthy, you ask? Well, many employees’ phones spend about 40 hours a week on desks at work, spaces that have “hundreds of times more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat,” according to researchers at the University of Arizona. Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology there, told USA Today, “We touch more surfaces than any generation in history, from ATM machines to self-checkout counters.” The result? “You’re picking up germs all the time on your hands and fingers, putting them on your cellphone and bringing them close to your nose, mouth or eyes.”
I’ll give you a second to go clean your phone before we proceed.
As ewww-inducing as that germy factoid is, some of the content flowing through those phones can be unexpectedly troubling as well—even in online spaces supposedly “safe” for kids. Florida pediatrician Dr. Free N. Hess is calling out YouTube for a video on YouTube Kids that has instructions on how to commit suicide spliced into a cartoony video. Hess said she first learned of the video seven months ago, and that it was taken down after she let YouTube know about it. But it’s now resurfaced. On her blog pedimom.com, she writes,
In the last several days there has been a lot of talk about videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids that are inappropriate for our children. One of those videos, the cartoon with the suicide clip, was brought to light right here on PediMom.com. I wish I could say that they are isolated incidents but unfortunately I cannot. My research has led me into a horrifying world where people create cartoons glorifying dangerous topics and scenarios such self-harm, suicide, sexual exploitation, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and gun violence which includes a simulated school shooting. All of these videos were found on YouTube Kids, a platform that advertises itself to be a safe place for children 8 years old and under.
Parallel to that story, The Telegraph (UK) reports that one in four teen suicides has some connection to the internet, including teens looking for information on that subject or being bullied to the point where they’ve taken their own lives. And then there’s the Momo Challenge, a viral phenomenon involving a distorted birdlike head that encourages some who encounter it via social media to self-injure or kill themselves. Forbes writer Andy Robertson addresses some of the sensational claims related to the story, as well as offering parents advice on how to help kids think critically about trends like this one.
Pew Research Center recently asked teens what they see as their biggest concerns. Perhaps surprisingly, 70% said that depression and anxiety were the most significant issues facing them and their peers, topping concerns about bullying (55%), drug addiction (51%) and alcohol use (45%).
Meanwhile, tobacco use surged among middle school and high school students in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up 36% from 2017—an increase largely fueled by the growing popularity of e-cigarettes. The upswing in tobacco use followed many years of declining youth usage. And in states where marijuana is legal, teens are frequently getting behind the wheel while high, according to the University of Minnesota.
Moving into the realm of pop culture, the Academy Awards handed out its coveted Oscars on Sunday night. My colleague Paul Asay has already talked about some of the highlights of the evening in his blog here. But since The Green Book was named best picture, many media outlets have taken the Academy to task for bestowing that movie with its highest honor. The Daily Beast called the award an “embarrassment,” while Salon noted that the award should have gone to a “smarter” film, like, say, Black Panther. Spike Lee wasn’t happy either.
Speaking of superhero movies, MTV thinks that Best Animated Feature winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has “changed what we expect from comic book movies.” MTV News’ contributor Brittany Vincent writes, “This isn’t a movie about impending disaster or how hard it is to be a hero. It’s a celebration of heroism, the Spider-Man franchise, and even more broadly, diversity.”
One more superhero story—well, sorta—before we move on. Many users have been blasting Marvel’s forthcoming flick Captain Marvel on the movie-review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes—never mind that the film won’t hit theaters for more than a week. Rotten Tomatoes has responded by suspending user ratings for films until they’re actually released.
Elsewhere this week, the forthcoming movie Unplanned, which tells the story of how former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson become a pro-life advocate, was given an R rating by the MPAA. In a written statement to Fox News, Johnson said of the rating, “We are pushing the boundaries of what has never been [seen] before on such a wide scale by showing America exactly what abortion is—and abortion is disturbing. It’s violent.”
She also added, “In my opinion, one of the most impactful films of our time is The Passion of the Christ. It was rated R. So I feel like Unplanned is in good company. An R rating from the MPAA isn’t going to slow this movie down. I believe people are ready for the truth.” Finally this week, Christian actress Lisa Welchel—best known for playing the character Blair on The Facts of Life from 1979 to 1988—talked with Closer Weekly about her refusal to participate in a storyline in which her character lost her virginity. “So, when I heard that that was going to be one of the storylines for that year, I did come to the producers and say, you know, I don’t think I can be a part of that.