Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), and Senator Katie Britt (R-Alabama) introduced new legislation to help protect children from the harmful impacts of social media. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would set a minimum age of 13 to use social media apps and would require parental consent for 13 through17 year-olds. The bill would also prevent social media companies from feeding content using algorithms to users under the age of 18.
“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. Just as parents safeguard their kids from threats in the real world, they need the opportunity to protect their children online. By setting an age limit of 13—and requiring parental consent until age 18—our bill will put parents back in control of what their kids experience online,” said Senator Cotton.
“The growing evidence is clear: social media is making kids more depressed and wreaking havoc on their mental health. While kids are suffering, social media companies are profiting. This needs to stop. Our bill will help us stop the growing social media health crisis among kids by setting a minimum age and preventing companies from using algorithms to automatically feed them addictive content based on their personal information,” said Senator Schatz.
“As a parent of two kids – one a teenager and one about to be a teenager – I see firsthand the damage that social media companies, 100% committed to addicting our children to their screens, are doing to our society. This is a reality that we don’t have to accept. 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. 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. None of this is out of Congress’s control, and this bipartisan legislation would take important steps to protect kids and hold social media companies accountable,” said Senator Murphy.
“As a mom, nothing is more important to me than preserving the next generation’s opportunity to live the American Dream. Unfortunately, that Dream is turning into a nightmare for families across our country. This bill is a bold, critical step to protect our kids, secure their future, and empower parents. There is no doubt that our country is facing a growing mental health crisis and a deteriorating culture of violence. Children and teenagers across our nation are dying, families are being devastated, and our society is withering. The only beneficiaries of the status quo are social media companies’ bottom lines and the foreign adversaries cheering them on. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact the commonsense, age-appropriate solutions needed to tackle this generational challenge,” said Senator Britt.
The United States is facing a mental health crisis and no group is affected more than adolescents, and especially young girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 57 percent of high school girls and 29 percent of high school boys felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, with 22 percent of all high school students reporting they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the preceding year. One area that requires immediate action is the clear link between social media and poor mental health. Social media companies have known about this link for years, and independent research has confirmed it: social media usage is a cause for the mental health epidemic.
From 2019 to 2021, overall screen use among teens and tweens (ages 8 to 12) increased by 17 percent, with tweens using screens for five hours and 33 minutes per day and teens using screens for eight hours and 39 minutes. Studies have shown a strong relationship between social media use and poor mental health, especially among children. With this clear evidence, the U.S. Surgeon General has warned that 13 is too early for social media use and suggested that 16, 17, or 18 may be as well.
The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would:
- Require social media companies to undertake rigorous age verification measures based on the latest technology, while prohibiting companies from using age verification information for any other purpose;
- Prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media, consistent with the current practices of major social media companies;
- Prohibit social media companies from recommending content using algorithms to users under the age of 18;
- Require a guardian’s permission for users under 18 to create an account;
- Create a pilot project for a government-provided age verification system that platforms can choose to use; and
- Provide the FTC and state attorneys general authority to enforce the provisions of the bill.
Bill text may be found here.