In response to growing concerns about children’s safety on social media, a group of four senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, have introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media. The bill also requires permission from guardians for users under 18.
Age Restrictions and Algorithm Protections
The bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, Katie Britt, Republican of Alabama, and Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, aims to better protect children online. The bill proposes prohibiting social media companies from using algorithms to recommend content to users under 18 and to verify users’ ages.
“There is an unusual bipartisan momentum around the issue, as parents grapple with a burgeoning post-pandemic mental health crisis among young people,” says Schatz.
Industry Criticism and Alternative Approaches
While there is increasing appetite in Congress for regulating social media companies, industry groups have criticized the child safety bills, warning of overreach. They contend the rules could prevent teens from finding helpful resources on issues such as LBGTQ+ and suicide.
Another bill focused on child safety, approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last year, takes a different approach, requiring social media companies to abide by a “duty of care” to make their platforms safer and more transparent by design.
The senators’ bill faced criticism by Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who said he has “strong concerns” that the legislation would put more of a burden on parents than technology companies.
Potential for Change
Despite challenges in regulating the technology and social media industry, the senators, who are all parents of young children and teenagers, believe they are representative of millions of American parents. They hope their bill can make social media safer for children and teens.
According to Cotton, “Most social media companies are already collecting data on children, and their bill does not pose any additional risk. The fact that there are several bills out there highlights a lot of energy and enthusiasm about putting some reasonable guardrails around social media.”
With the mounting mental health crisis among young people, it remains to be seen if any legislation will successfully move through Congress. However, this bill represents a significant bipartisan effort to address the risks social media poses to children’s mental health.