Home Sen. Warner backs legislation to place safeguards on children’s use of social media in the U.S.
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Sen. Warner backs legislation to place safeguards on children’s use of social media in the U.S.

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The Kids Off Social Media Act would set a minimum age of 13 to use social media platforms and prevent social media companies from feeding algorithmically-targeted content to users under the age of 17.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia joined Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Ted Cruz of Texas and a bipartisan group of colleagues in introducing the legislation yesterday. They were joined by U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Katie Britt of Alabama, Peter Welch of Vermont, Ted Budd of North Carolina, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Angus King of Maine.

The legislation aims to address concerns regarding the mental health crisis of children and teens in relation to their use of social media. No age demographic is more affected by the ongoing mental health crisis in the United States than kids, 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, and nearly a third of high school girls, reporting they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the preceding year.

Studies have shown a strong relationship between social media use and poor mental health, especially among children. 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. Based on the clear and growing evidence, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory in 2023 and called for new policies to set and enforce age minimums and highlighting the importance of limiting the use of features, like algorithms, that attempt to maximize time, attention and engagement.

“Parents across the country are struggling to protect their kids from the harmful effects of too much social media, and studies show that today’s unregulated social media landscape has fostered a toxic environment for young people, promoting bullying, eating disorders and mental health struggles unchecked,” Warner said. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort to enact some common sense guardrails for kids and teens using social media platforms.”

The Kids Off Social Media Act would:

·Prohibit children under the age of 13 from creating or maintaining social media accounts, consistent with the current practices of major social media companies;

·Prohibit social media companies from pushing targeted content using algorithms to users under the age of 17;

·Provide the FTC and state attorneys general authority to enforce the provisions of the bill; and

·Follow existing CIPA framework to require schools to block and filter social media on their federally funded networks, which many schools already do.

Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a vocal advocate building a safer online environment, specifically for young people. Last year, he introduced the Kids Online Safety Act, legislation that provides young people and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against online harms. He has also introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at holding Big Tech accountable, including the SAFE TECH Act, which would reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms; the Honest Ads Act, which would require online political advertisements to adhere to the same disclaimer requirements as TV, radio, and print ads; and most recently, seeing through the passage of the national security supplemental aid package, which included a requirement that the prominent social media platform TikTok divest from China-owned parent company ByteDance within one year.

“Public Citizen stands in strong support of this legislation intended to protect the nation’s children from the pernicious impacts of social media. Frequent use of social media can harm vulnerable children and teens as their identities and feelings of self-worth are forming. A straightforward ban for younger children and stopping abusive algorithmic engagement with teens just makes sense. We applaud Senator Schatz for his commonsense bill,” said Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President of Public Citizen.

According to Jennifer Bransford, Founder of Count on Mothers, the organization surveys mothers about pressing issues and ask what federal bills they need.

“We do this because mothers’ first-hand experiences and knowledge are critical sources of information in the policy-making process. This bill, newly renamed the ‘Kids Off Social Media Act,’ had more support by mothers — across the political spectrum — than any bill we’ve studied. Mothers are on the frontlines of this issue, and according to our quantitative and qualitative study, they overwhelmingly believe that social media companies’ products and practices should be regulated using age limits and guardrails, similar to other harmful substances,” Bransford said. 

Dr. Regena Spratling is president of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and said the U.S. “is facing a severe crisis in children’s mental health. “Every day pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) and other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) focused on children’s health see the serious impact that social media can have on our young people’s well-being. The ‘Kids Off Social Media Act’ will help to provide parents the tools they need to safeguard their children from threats in the digital world.”

“Preparing nurses to help address our country’s growing mental health problems is one of nursing education’s highest priorities,” said Dr. Beverly Malone, President and CEO of the National League for Nursing. “The National League for Nursing is pleased to support the ‘Kids Off Social Media Act’ as an important step to help parents and health care professionals shield our young people from harmful online content that can lead to behavioral health problems.”

Executive Director Tania Haigh of KIDS TOO said the organization supports the legislation to protect children on social media.

“Sen. Schatz’s Kids Off Social Media Act solidifies prohibiting youth under 13 from maintaining or creating social media accounts. This bill gets to the root of the issue by eliminating the chance of young kids being vulnerable to harmful tactics by predators, bullies and drug dealers,” she said.  

President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing said humans are still learning about the long-term effects of social media access on children.

“Until then, especially considering evidence showing that the way people use social media can impact mental health outcomes, it makes sense to put safeguards in place. As we learn more, we can modify these safeguards as needed. But we need to begin somewhere, and this legislation would provide an opportunity to more clearly understand whether modest safeguards can protect children and adolescents and what responsible measures look like,” Ingoglia said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.