Representative Kelly Armstrong visited students at Dickinson High School, Tuesday, for an open forum in which he discussed social media, vaping and other youth issues.
He talked to students about how social media uses their information.
“You’re not the customer," Armstrong said. "The customer is advertisers. You know what you are? You’re the product ... Anybody ever went shopping online and bought something and then go back to their social media platform and the thing they just bought five seconds ago was the thing on their ads?"
He gave the students an anecdote.
"I was talking to another Congressman, and we were talking about the fact that we don’t have time to exercise … We’re coming on the Thanksgiving holiday, and we all have put on weight since we’ve been in Congress," Armstrong said. "He starts talking to me about these t-shirts you can buy that are like slimming t-shirts for men … I go check my official Facebook page, and the t-shirt is there!"
He explained the idea of targeted advertising — then told them how it related to even the news they're exposed to.
"Remember, that’s the same way you’re getting your news on those platforms. They are pushing news to you based on those data models that says this is what you want to hear. Why is that important? Because news is supposed to be for information, not affirmation. One of the biggest problems we have in the political discourse in this country is everybody reads what they want to hear," Armstrong said.
He urged the students to seek out both sides in a political argument rather than getting stuck in their party's echo chamber.
"Seek out the truth. If you believe a certain way, look for the opposing viewpoint. It’s all out there. You can go find it. Read both sides of every equation," Armstrong said.
He said that the adversarial part of politics has always existed.
"Did you know that at one point in time Poor Richard's Almanac accused an opponent of having syphilis? He made it up! There was no evidence at all that the political evidence had syphilis," Armstrong said.
Although you may not agree on a topic, it's possible to remain friends and be civil.
"I never ran a negative campaign against my opponent," Armstrong said. "My opponent is actually my friend. I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher, and he wouldn't vote for me for anything, but we're still friends. My best friend is one of the five most liberal people in North Dakota ... We're going to fight, but we're going to fight about ideas. There are huge philosophical differences between people who represent an urban district and a rural district, people who are liberal and people who are conservative. We have very different views of how government should work, and we should have those fights, but what we shouldn't resort to all of the time and constantly is the lowest common denominator."
He said politicians run negative campaign ads because they work.
"They way they quit working is when an entire group of population — say juniors and seniors in high school... — says I'm not going to vote for a guy who runs negative ads," Armstrong said.
Answering a question from a teacher, he addressed teenage vaping.
"I've got a bill through the US House two weeks ago that says that in order to order electronic cigarettes, you have to sign for them, the same as you do with any other tobacco product and the same as you do with any alcohol product," Armstrong said. "There's no nefarious reason why that doesn't exist. It's because when we updated the online purchases for those substances, electronic cigarettes didn't exist."
He told them there will be a national push for raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21, which he supports.
"It's a lot harder if you're 16 years old to find a college junior to buy you an electronic cigarette than it is a high school student," Armstrong said. "By the way, I think that is a way better solution than banning flavors and having a hodgepodge of 50 different laws in 50 different states. The reason I believe that is because I'm looking at the data, and the vast majority of people who vape between the age of 14 and 17 get them from somebody who purchased them legally."