Four U.S. senators have introduced a new piece of legislation aimed at protecting children from the negative impacts of social media.
The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, introduced by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Katie Britt (R-Ala.), proposes setting a minimum age of 13 for the use of social media apps and requiring parental consent for 13 to 17-year-olds. The bill also aims to prevent social media companies from using algorithms to feed content to users under 18 years of age.
The introduction of this bill comes at a time when the United States is grappling with a mental health crisis, with adolescents, especially young girls, being the most affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2021, nearly 57 percent of high school girls and 29 percent of high school boys reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Additionally, more than 22 percent of all high school students reported having seriously considered suicide in the previous year.
One area that requires immediate attention is the link between social media use and poor mental health. While social media companies have been aware of this link for years, independent research has confirmed that social media use is a cause for the mental health epidemic.
Studies have shown a significant relationship between social media use and poor mental health, particularly among children. From 2019 to 2021, overall screen use among tweens (ages 8 to 12) and teens increased by 17 percent. Tweens use screens for an average of five hours and 33 minutes per day, while teens use screens for an average of eight hours and 39 minutes per day.
The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that 13 is too early for social media use and has suggested that ages 16 to 18 may be more appropriate ages.
The proposal includes several measures to safeguard children’s mental health, including requiring social media companies to implement rigorous age verification measures based on the latest technology. These companies would be prohibited from using age verification information for any other purpose. The bill also aims to prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media, which aligns with current practices of major social media companies.
Under the legislation, social media companies should not use algorithms to recommend content to users under the age of 18. This measure aims to reduce exposure to harmful content that may negatively impact children’s mental health. Additionally, users under age 18 would require a guardian’s permission to create an account, which could reduce the number of underage users accessing social media.
The bill also includes a pilot project for a government-provided age verification system that social media platforms can choose to use. This measure aims to make it easier for social media companies to implement age verification measures and comply with the proposed legislation.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)would have the authority to enforce the provisions of the bill.
Regulations of social media use, algorithms and AI are quickly emerging at the federal and state level. If you believe your rights as a consumer or employee have been infringed, contact Potomac Legal Group to discuss your options.