A bipartisan bill introduced today would stop anyone in the U.S. from using social media as well as put limits on all young people from getting onto such platforms.
The “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act,” is the brainchild of Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Katie Britt (R-AL). If passed, it would effectively get many young people off social media, something the senators believe is paramount in the face of concern about the mental health of young people.
“The growing evidence is clear: social media is making kids more depressed and wreaking havoc on their mental health,” said Senator Schatz in a press release. While kids are suffering, social media companies are profiting. This needs to stop.”
Online life has certainly affected young folks in the U.S. and abroad. Studies have shown increases in depression among children, which seems to have started in the late 2000s. This year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported records levels of girls having suicidal thoughts, stating that the suicide rate for U.S. both boys and girls increased by 52.2% between 2000-2021. This has created a backlash in the U.S., with many experts expressing that social media use can create anxiety and depression in the young.
Correlation is not causation, but the evidence is very strong where children’s mental health and social media use is concerned. “From bullying and sex trafficking to addiction and explicit content, social media companies subject children and teens to a wide variety of content that can hurt them, emotionally and physically,” Cotton explained. He didn’t mention that competition, comparison, and envy are well understood as being damaging to young people’s mental health or that all digital technologies have led to a decrease in kids having much less physical social interaction that is necessary for growth and well-being.
The senators say anyone under the age of 18 should require parental consent to use social media, which will undoubtedly be met with criticism from privacy and free speech advocates, especially as millions of Americans under 18 have kids themselves. 17-year-olds can join the military and take lives as part of their work, so telling them they can’t use Instagram without consent might be a bridge too far.
The bill will “require users to provide government-issued identification for age verification” if they’re under 18 and using any kind of digital platform that allows people to publish text, images, or videos. The platforms would be asked to take “reasonable steps” to verify a user’s age. The senators want the U.S. government to create a pilot program for a new age verification system.
“The alarm bells about social media’s devastating impact on kids have been sounding for a long time, and yet time and time again, these companies have proven they care more about profit than preventing the well-documented harm they cause,” said Murphy. “In particular, these algorithms are sending many down dangerous online rabbit holes, with little chance for parents to know what their kids are seeing online.”
Britt said while the bill is “bold,” it is also “critical” in what she called a modern era of social media that is a “nightmare for families” in the U.S. “Children and teenagers across our nation are dying, families are being devastated, and our society is withering,” she said.
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