Prompted by bored parents, some in Congress are trying to limit children’s use of social media

WASHINGTON – Attempts in Congress to keep children off their phones are mounting despite intense lobbying from social media giants and opposition from people concerned about violations of First Amendment speech rights.

Lawmakers are moving to set a minimum age for access to social media and place more burden on social media companies and their algorithms, while giving parents more control in trying to protect their children online.

A bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators led by Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas and Brian Schatz from Hawaii, introduced a recent version of the bill which would set a minimum age of 13 for access to social media platforms.

It would also ban the use of “addictive algorithms” on social media platforms for under-17s and restrict the use of social media in schools. At the end of April, the bill was submitted to Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportationbut the committee found there was no marker date.

Divestiture of TikTok

Major social media platforms such as ICT Tok and Meta Instagramhave been criticized for the algorithms they can influence mental health of children and adolescents.

In overdue April, President Joe Biden signed legislation that would make this possible forces TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance within the next year, or face a ban in the United States. The act – built into a massive foreign aid package – arose primarily out of privacy and national security concerns. Both the app and its parent company filed a lawsuit block a potential ban.

In response to parents’ dissatisfaction, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized to distraught family members of social media victims during a court hearing in January Senate Judiciary Committee around children’s safety on the Internet.

However, the group’s April report shows that Meta and ByteDance have also invested significantly in their lobbying efforts First edition.

The nonpartisan nonprofit found that Meta spent a whopping $7.64 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2024, and there was one lobbyist for every eight members of Congress. Similarly, ByteDance spent $2.68 million and had one lobbyist for every 11 members of Congress.

Children’s Online Safety Act

Other bipartisan efforts in Congress are also focusing on social media companies’ algorithms to protect children’s safety online.

Experts say balancing the First Amendment, the key to data protection, will make social media safer for children

Meaning. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, have introduced a recent version of their legislation, the so-called Children’s Internet Safety ActIN May 2023. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the bill and it was submitted to the Sejm in December Senate Legislative Calendar.

Part of a revised measure that gained support more than half of the US Senatewould require platforms to provide minors with the ability to “protect their information, disable addictive product features and opt out of personalized algorithmic recommendations” and enable parental controls to “detect harmful behavior.”

The bill would also provide a platform for parents and teachers to report such behavior. Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives introduced an accompanying act in April. AND House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee he forwarded the bill to the full committee at the end of May.

Concerns about freedom of speech

However, attempts to accommodate or limit minors’ interactions on social media have been met with concerns over potential violations of the First Amendment.

“Any government restrictions on what we can say or see online are likely to be unconstitutional,” said Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonprofit that defends free speech rights.

Terr said many such bills “run unconstitutional” where they “threaten the First Amendment rights of platforms to disseminate speech, the First Amendment rights of minors to access lawful content, and the rights of adults to express or access to content anonymously because they may need to provide information about their identity to confirm their age.”

“Parents are in the best position to set rules about their children’s use of social media, and the government should not usurp parental authority,” Terr said. He also noted that when it comes to laws trying to regulate social media or speech in general, “a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.”

“The problem with these laws is also who decides what is ‘right’? “These regulations are unclear and the problem is that they give the government a lot of freedom to introduce their own subjective assessment of what they think is appropriate and replace their own assessment of private platforms and the people who use them,” he added.

Children’s health warnings

In 2023, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy publicly warned that while more research is needed to understand the effects of social media and some evidence shows potential benefits for children and teenagers, “there are many indicators that social media may also carry a serious risk of harmful effects on the mental health and well-being of children and young people.”

Dr. Jenny Radesky, a behavioral health pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, told States Newsroom that sleep is best addressed by science.

“When kids are using media for long periods of time, or when it’s annoying and in some way it makes them more alert or in some way dysregulated, or when they’re using it in the evenings – all of that is associated with poorer sleep, and sleep is extremely crucial to a child’s development,” said Radesky, chairman of the Council on Communications and Media at the American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP belongs to the so-called over 200 organizations supporting the Act on children’s safety on the Internet.

“We don’t want to introduce laws that somehow regulate the content that can appear on the Internet because that’s a real First Amendment issue, so we don’t want the law to say that this type of content can’t be shown on children’s channels . But we are asking for some responsibility,” Radesky said.

Radesky said much of the work to ensure children use the internet safely falls on parents. “It’s exhausting and not all of us know how to do it,” she said.

She said parents should feel free to talk to their members of Congress and say, “Listen, parenting is tough enough right now. Please do something to spotless up the digital ecosystem to make this easier, and so that the default experiences for children can lean more towards health and positivity and less towards the risks that have been documented over the last five to 10 years.”

Phones in the classroom

There is also a push at the state level to get kids away from phones in class, and several states have passed or introduced laws banning students from using phones in class because Stateline reported in March.

Last year, Florida became the first state to require public schools to prohibit students from using cell phones in class.

Indiana has also taken similar action. Governor Eric Holcomb signed the bill earlier this year that, with some exceptions, requires schools to ban the use of wireless communication devices during classes.

Some lawmakers in Congress have also asked for specific research on cell phone use in schools, including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Two legislation introduced in November, which would require US Department of Education “conducting a study on the use of mobile devices in primary and secondary schools and establishing a pilot grant program to enable some schools to create a mobile-device-free school environment.” In November, the bill was submitted to Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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