A group of bipartisan senators submitted a federal proposal on Wednesday, which they hope will help with the mental health crisis sweeping through teenagers. The US bill would stop under 18s from using social media algorithms and ban children under 13 from social media networks.
Most people agree that social media giants must be more accountable for their content. But, opponents of the bill feel that it violates children’s constitutional rights and paves the way for a government-controlled internet.
Protecting Kids On Social Media
Democrat senators Brian Schatz and Chris Murphy and Republican senators Tom Cotton and Kate Britt put forward The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act. They believe regulating social media is crucial to safeguard children on the internet.
The bill proposes a ban on social media for children under 13, and those between 13 and 18 would need parental consent to join networks. It also targets social media companies and would ban them from using algorithms on users under 18.
There is concern about targeting children with algorithms because they are designed to keep them engaged, which results in more screen time. They also target children with personalized advertising and may expose them to upsetting or unsuitable content.
The senators propose a government age verification process to regulate the bill, where users must upload ID to join networks. They intend to launch a pilot scheme for the process, though social media companies aren’t obliged to use the government-approved verification system.
Social media companies will also be eligible for fines if underage users log into their systems. While many believe the companies should take more responsibility for safeguarding children on their platforms, there is concern that the bill could pave the way toward a government-regulated internet.
The Teenage Mental Health Crisis
Teenage mental health has been deteriorating rapidly for more than a decade. According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates in children were stable between 2000 and 2007 but increased by 57% between 2007 and 2018.
These figures are shocking and can be linked directly to the rise in popularity of social media.
There are many studies about the effects of social media on children’s mental health, and most suggest that girls are more vulnerable than boys. Excessive screen time can interfere with a child’s sleep, make them feel anxious and depressed, and lower their self-worth.
Children spend less time physically socializing with their friends when they interact on social media and are more vulnerable to cyberbullying and online grooming. Excessive screen time can also affect the way their brain develops.
The risk of mental health issues increases with the time children spend online. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children between 8 – 12 spend, on average, 4-6 hours a day on digital devices, and teenagers up to 9 hours.
Should We Ban Kids From Social Media?
According to Wired, The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act faces cross-party opposition. While no one denies the damage social media does to children’s mental health, they feel that it’s not the government’s place to regulate the platforms.
Opponents also raise privacy concerns about storing children’s data and how the move will deny social media access to the many kids who don’t have official government IDs.
They also believe that social platforms are a learning resource when used responsibly and that it’s the parent’s right to decide how much time their children spend on social media.
CNN reports that Design it For Us, a youth coalition pushing for social media reform suggests that the government should focus on getting the companies to make the platforms safer rather than giving kids an outright ban which could threaten their constitutional rights.