Press Release

New York lawmakers Pass A Bill To Protect Under 18 On Social Media

Legislators in New York State enacted legislation on Friday that forbids social media companies from showing “addictive” algorithmic content to users younger than 18 without their agreement. 

TakeAway Points:

  • New York state lawmakers passed legislation on Friday to bar social media platforms from exposing “addictive” algorithmic content to users under the age 18 without parental consent.
  • The sponsors of the proposals also reference research that links what they define as excessive adolescent usage of social media to increased rates of anxiety, sadness, sleep difficulties, and other mental health issues.

Measures to Protect Under-18s from Addictive Content on Social Media

New York is now the latest state to take steps to reduce the risks that youngsters face when using the internet.

A day after both bills were approved by the state Senate, a companion bill prohibiting websites from gathering and selling the personal information of minors was also given final legislative approval in the New York Assembly on Friday. Governor Kathy Hochul is expected to sign both into law.

A “historic step forward in our efforts to address the juvenile mental health problem and establish a safer internet environment for young people,” she declared, praising the two initiatives.

Revenues for social media firms like Meta Platforms, whose networks include Facebook and Instagram, may suffer.

Legislators cited recent Harvard University research that revealed the six biggest social media companies made $11 billion in 2022 from selling advertisements to children.

Impacts of Addictive Contents

The sponsors of the proposals also reference research that links what they define as excessive adolescent usage of social media to increased rates of anxiety, sadness, sleep difficulties, and other mental health issues.

The industry group NetChoice denounced the law, stating that it “forces websites to block all information unless users produce an ID to verify their age” and that it is a “strike on free expression and the open internet.”

The group said that it has successfully contested as unconstitutional comparable laws from three other states in court.

According to a governor’s spokesperson, the law allows for the use of one or more age-verification techniques while maintaining user anonymity, and it does not restrict the content of websites.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and chairman of Meta, who also co-founded Facebook, gave the bill some support.

“While we don’t agree with every aspect of these bills, we welcome New York becoming the first state to pass legislation recognizing the responsibility of app stores,” the company said in a statement.

Social media users under the age of 18 must get parental permission before viewing “addictive” feeds, according to a measure known as the SAFE (Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation) for Kids Act. This is commonly understood to mean content that is presented to users by algorithms meant to entice them to stay on a platform for as long as possible, even while it originates from accounts they do not subscribe to or follow.

Instead, advertisers claim that before the development of “addictive” algorithms, children on social media would get a chronological stream of content from accounts they already follow or from content that is generally popular.

When it comes to non-addictive algorithms used for search functions or screening inappropriate or obscene information, young users can still search for specific areas of interest, connect with friends, and join online groups without parental authorization.

The Bill Regulations and Punishments

A bill summary provided by the attorney general of New York states that the law would cover platforms where the majority of the content in feeds is user-generated and content that is suggested to users based on the information the platform gathers about them.

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube were mentioned in the summary as sites that would probably be impacted by the law.

The related measure, known as the New York Child Data Protection Act, would prohibit any internet sites from gathering, using, disclosing, or selling any personal information about anybody under the age of 18 unless they have “informed consent” or unless doing so is absolutely required for the site’s operation.

A parent’s informed consent is required for users under the age of 13. Penalties of up to $5,000 or civil damages may be imposed on violators.

The first U.S. state to enact legislation restricting children’s access to social media was Utah in March 2023. Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, and Florida subsequently followed suit.

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