New Federal Bill Would Restrict Social Media Use for Minors

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate last week seeks to establish a federal age limit for using social media that would prohibit children 12 and under from creating their own accounts as a way to prevent them from independently logging on to social platforms. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act takes issue with the engagement algorithms Big Tech uses to keep kids glued to their sites and would limit the type of coding that could be deployed to target young users between the ages of 13 and 17. If not logged into an account, users under 13 could still access other online content.

According to Wired, “the bill would also require parental consent before anyone under 18 could create a profile.” To ensure compliance, pre-teens would be subjected to a government-run age-verification program run by the Department of Commerce requiring parents and kids to upload IDs. That will no doubt raise privacy concerns that give the bill little chance of being passed, but its proposal sheds light on Congressional thinking.

The fact that it is bipartisan reflects “pressure ratcheting up on party leaders by rank and file lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are demanding Congress act to protect children, after years of watching similar efforts dither,” Wired writes.

The bill’s supporters ardently defend its aim and scope. “Let’s be clear, this bill is completely content neutral,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a press release. “All it says is that you cannot build a purposefully addictive program that leads especially vulnerable children down deep, deep dark rabbit holes.”

Wired lets Senator Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) speak for the skeptics, saying “we kind of went through this when Tipper Gore was trying to ban music for some people.”

“Social media is making kids more depressed and wreaking havoc on their mental health. While kids are suffering, social media companies are profiting,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a co-sponsor of the bill.

TechCrunch points out that “the bill’s language doesn’t outline how algorithms will be regulated,” and includes civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo’s scathing observation that the Senate is offering “a terribly misinformed statement about social media technology. You might as well try saying you’re banning JavaScript for teens.”

Other federal efforts unleashed this year to protect children on the Internet include two bills introduced by Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), including the MATURE Act (Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust and Effective). Also, the Clean Slate for Kids Online Act of 2023 advanced by Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and two others.

Echoes of History in New National Push to Shield Children Online, The New York Times, 4/30/23
States’ Push to Protect Kids Online Could Remake the Internet, The New York Times, 4/30/23
Social-Media Shopping Scams Are Growing. Young Adults Are the Targets, The Wall Street Journal, 4/29/23

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