“Enough is enough,” Senator Katie Britt, a Republican from Alabama (and mother of two teens) who helped introduce the bill. “The time to act is now.”
Joining Britt is Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut (and father of two teens). “I just feel like we’ve reached this point where doing nothing is not an option,” Murphy said. “And increasingly, when members of Congress go home, this is one of the first or second issues that they’re hearing about from their constituents.”
Rounding out the bipartisan team are Senators Brian Schatz (Democrat, Hawaii) and Tom Cotton (Republican, Arkansas).
The legislation itself
The legislation being introduced seeks to “prohibit all children under the age of 13 from using social media and would require permission from a guardian for users under 18 to create an account.” While the proposed restrictions may seem heavy-handed, the Senators seem confident that they have the support of parents nation-wide.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the senators said, “that they believe they are representative of millions of American parents who are gravely worried that social media companies are largely unchecked in what they can serve up to their children.”
“The idea that an algorithm has some sort of First Amendment right to get into your kid’s brain is preposterous,” Schatz said. “And the idea that a 13-year-old has some First Amendment right to have an algorithm shove upsetting content down their throat is also preposterous.”
In addition to the age restrictions, the new legislation would “prohibit social media companies from using algorithms to recommend content to users under 18.”
The legislation is overdue
I’ll tell you what: I’m for it. Social media companies have grown in both scope and perniciousness, seemingly unchecked, for too long. Aside from the monopoly concerns surrounding big tech and social media companies (that’s a deeply concerning issue, but deserves its own separate article), the nature of the product itself has become untenable.
First, social media products are commonly understood to be addictive. And children are typically kept away from addictive products. And although Facebook won’t give you cancer or heart disease, social media products have been linked with mental health problems – which leads us to point number two…
Second, are commonly understood to have degraded the overall mental health of young Americans. So it appears social media is in fact having a corrosive effect on user’s health.
Third, social media products are exploitative. Really, all social media companies do is harvest data and sell that data, and/or use that data to sell targeted ad space. It’s gross. And despite all these Silicon Valley schmucks telling you that social media is a tool for unity and good, social media is just a really sophisticated advertisement space. And yes, children are subjected to advertisements everywhere, all the time – but not in a way that harvests, manipulates, and sells the child’s personal data.
What will the resistance look like?
I’ve got a strong hunch that social media companies are going to oppose the legislation – while simultaneously preaching about how important it is to keep kids safe online et cetera, et cetera. Social media companies have done a wonderful job marketing themselves as benevolent innovators, humble servants in a quest for global connectedness.
Don’t buy the hype; it’s a shame. Social media exists to collect and sell data and is long overdue for some more heavy-handed congressional oversight.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.