By Gina Diorio
As the aspiring Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro has cast himself as the defender of the little guy.
But as the attorney general of Pennsylvania, Shapiro has pursued priorities that mask how he’s failing to address major crises impacting Pennsylvanians.
Consider, for example, Shapiro’s recent announcement that he’s joined a coalition of attorneys general to launch an investigation into the video platform TikTok. The concern is that TikTok is “providing and promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while use is associated with physical and mental health harms.”
Shapiro said, “My job is to protect all Pennsylvanians, especially children, from online threats. Parents and children deserve to know the risks associated with these platforms. And if TikTok is found to have prioritized business growth over the physical and emotional well being of Pennsylvania’s children, they will be held responsible for that.”
While Shapiro posts TikTok videos, he’s failed to address record gun violence in Philadelphia, including violence against children that’s not only caused physical tragedies but also exacerbated mental health challenges.
Last year, 37 children (ages seventeen and under) were killed by gun violence, and an additional 208 children were non-fatal victims of gun violence, according to the Philadelphia Office of the Controller.
Beyond the tragic injuries and deaths, “[e]xposure to neighborhood gun violence is associated with increased odds of mental health-related pediatric Emergency Department (ED) visits among children living within four to five blocks of a shooting,” according to research conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Yet, after the Legislature passed — and Governor Wolf signed — Act 58 in 2019, giving the attorney general the power to prosecute gun crimes in Philly, Shapiro refused to use his new authority.
Shapiro claims he went after TikTok to protect kids’ mental health. But if he wants to show he’s serious about children’s mental health, he should put as much effort into going after violent criminals in Philly as he does into targeting TikTok.
Addressing gun violence in Philly is just one area where Shapiro is on the wrong side of the solution.
John Allegrante, one of the authors of a study on adolescent mental health during Covid, published in The Lancet, noted, “Isolation during the pandemic … is having a clinically important, negative impact on young people who have not been in school during the pandemic.” For adolescents who were “at home, engaged in remote learning and separated from friends — the consequences of not going to school not only set back their learning but also negatively affected their mental health.”
Yet, Shapiro continues to stand proudly with the teachers’ unions that fought to keep schools closed, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).
In return, PFT, which claimed schools should still be closed almost a year after the Covid pandemic began, endorsed Shapiro for governor. And PSEA, which collaborated with Governor Wolf to extend school closures, recommended Shapiro’s candidacy in the Democratic primary (after giving him $50,000 last year, according to campaign finance filings.)
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being concerned that TikTok and other social media platforms are harming children’s mental health.
But refusing to tackle violent crime in Philly while allying with unions that shuttered schools for months on end — contributing to the mental health crisis among our young people — is hardly an effective way for Shapiro to convince Pennsylvanians that he’s standing up for us.
Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.