A bipartisan group of senators this week announced a new piece of legislation designed to protect children from aspects of social media they say are contributing to the mental health crisis affecting American youth.
The Social Media Protection of Children Act would set the minimum age for social media users to 13. For teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, parental consent would be required and platforms would be banned from using algorithms to recommend content to these young users. Adults would have to create an account for their teens by presenting a valid ID to become users of the platform, as per the Act.
However, the Act says that children under the age of 13 will still be able to view content on social networking sites as long as it does not require the person to log in.
The bill is backed by four lawmakers, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Katie Britt of Alabama, along with Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who say America’s mental health crisis is weighing heavily on teenagers, especially young girls.
“The business model of these apps is simple, the time the user spends in the app and the degree to which they engage with the content is directly correlated to ad revenue,” Schatz said, arguing that companies want users to spend a lot of time on their platforms, but the results can be “disastrous”.
“Social media (businesses) have stumbled upon a stubborn, devastating fact: The way to encourage kids to stay on their platforms and maximize their platforms is to make them nervous,” Schatz told reporters at a press conference announcing the bill on Wednesday in the Capitol.
Meanwhile, Cotton said many social media companies say they don’t allow children under 13 on their platforms and instead rely on self-reporting methods that can be easily avoided by children.
During the announcement, Britt said it was important to take a step back so that parents could teach their children how to use social media for good while staying safe. She noted that social media can be hard enough for people over 18 to digest.
“As adults, how many of you struggled with what someone posted on social media, what someone said, or what someone did?” she asked.
Most teens say they use social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube at least once a day, while others say they use these sites almost “constantly.” Pew Research study. More than half of the teens surveyed said it would be hard for them to stop using social media.
The new rules will put “parents back in control” of what their children experience online, Cotton said. He said if a teenager is too young for other experiences and responsibilities in the real world, from signing contracts, opening a bank account and watching R-rated movies, then he is too young to watch some content on these platforms.
Schatz said: “More and more evidence is clear: social media makes children more depressed and wreaks havoc on their mental health,” adding, “while children suffer, social media companies profit. This must end.”
Senators cited worrying results from a recent study Centers for Disease Control and Preventionwhich shows that 42% of high school students surveyed have experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year.
Twenty-two percent seriously considered attempting suicide, and one in four young women even went so far as to formulate a plan on how they were going to do it.
Murphy, a father-of-two, said the warning signs of social media’s impact on children were obvious and it was time to act.
“It’s a reality we don’t have to accept. Alarms have been sounding for a long time about the devastating impact of social media on children, and yet these companies have proven time and time again that they are more concerned with profits than preventing the well-documented harm they cause,” he said. “None of this is beyond the control of Congress.”
AND statement issued by several advocacy groups that focus on the safe use of social media has raised concerns about the regulations. These include Common Sense Media, Fairplay for Kids and the Center for Digital Democracy, which said that while the bill is “well-intentioned”, some aspects require wrong approach.
Advocacy groups have stated that they support a ban on algorithmic recommendations aimed at minors; however, they believe that the Act is burdensome for parents, creates unrealistic prohibitions and can be harmful to children in unhealthy living conditions.
“By requiring parental consent before a teenager can use a social media platform, vulnerable minors, including LGBTQ+ children and children living in unsupported households, can be cut off from access to needed resources and communities,” the statement reads. groups.
The group also said that the minimum age requirement for parental consent puts a teenage user’s privacy at risk. James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, said in a statement that the group appreciates the senators’ efforts and hopes to work with them in the future, “but this is a matter of life or death for families and we have to be very careful how protect children online.
Steyer recommended that social media companies take responsibility for making the internet a safe space for children to avoid making the government a middleman between parents and their children.