A new bipartisan bill was unveiled on Wednesday that would establish a national minimum age for social media use and require tech companies to get parents’ consent before creating an account for minors.
The bill will restrict how Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms engage with minors. It is designed to break the grip the predators, scammers and com-modifiers have on the most vulnerable in our society.
The bill, known as the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, social media platforms would be barred from letting children below the age of 13 create accounts or interact with other users. You can read the draft text of the legislation.
Tech platforms covered by the legislation would have to obtain a parent or guardian’s consent before creating new accounts for users under the age of 18. The companies would be banned from using teens’ personal information to target them with content or advertising, though they could still provide limited targeted recommendations, as outlined in the draft.
It’s the latest step by lawmakers to develop age limitations for tech platforms after similar bills became law this year in states such as Arkansas and Utah.
But the legislation undoubtedly will trigger broader debates, court challenges, and raise privacy and constitutional rights of young Americans.
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, one of the architects of the federal bill called upon Congress and the public to urgently protect children from social media harms.
“Social media companies have stumbled onto a stubborn, devastating fact,” Schatz said. “The way to get kids to linger on the platforms and to maximize profit is to upset them — to make them outraged, to make them agitated, to make them scared, to make them vulnerable, to make them feel helpless, anxious [and] despondent.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican co-sponsor, said existing ways of ensuring kids are not underage online are too easily circumvented.
Senator Schatz and Cotton were joined by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and Alabama Republican Sen. Katie Britt.
In what could be one of the most far-reaching changes to the technology landscape, the bill seeks to create a government-run age verification program that can certify users’ ages or parental status based on identification they upload to the government system or to a third-party verifier.
Under the bill, that program would be a pilot project administered by the Department of Commerce, and participation and use of the federally managed age verifier would be voluntary.
Alternatively, it would represent a potentially vast expansion of the government’s role in regulating websites where age verification is required.
Tech companies could still develop their own in-house age verification technology or hire third party companies to perform the verification, lawmakers said.
Violations of the proposed law could mean millions of dollars in Federal Trade Commission fines for social media companies. But it would not apply to a long list of tech products including email services, teleconferencing providers, payments companies, video game storefronts, digital newsletter platforms, cloud storage services, travel websites and online reference guides such as Wikipedia or user review sites such as Yelp.
Wednesday’s legislation could be viewed as competition with a separate bill being drafted by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn.
That legislation, known as the Kids’ Online Safety Act, will be reintroduced in the Senate “very shortly,” Blumenthal said, expressing concerns about the Schatz-Cotton bill.
“I welcome additional ideas,” Blumenthal said. But, he added, “I have some concerns about an age identification system that would create a national database with personal information about kids in the hands of Big Tech, potentially leading to misuse or exploitation. I have other concerns about a bill that would put accountability on parents rather than on Big Tech, as our legislation does.”
In response to the bill, Design it For Us, a youth coalition pushing for changes to social media in the face of mental health concerns, said lawmakers should focus on shaping the basic product design of social media platforms, rather than imposing after-the-fact usage limitations.
“We believe that any legislation addressing harm on social media should put the onus on companies to make their platforms safer, instead of preventing kids and teens from being on platforms at all,” said Zamaan Qureshi, a co-chair of the group.
Opponents of these types of legislation claims restrictions on teens threaten their constitutional rights.
And, the game is on exposing META’s lobbying muscle to kill “kids safety legislation” already on the move in Washington DC. In this forum, the Real Facebook Oversight Board and its partners expose the reach of Meta’s influence on Capitol Hill and around the globe.
You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3NJ5HZEAtQ
The tech industry and digital rights advocates have claimed Utah’s age requirement verification and parental consent infringes on the First Amendment rights of young Americans to access information and diminish the freedom of speech.
“Requiring that all users in Utah tie their accounts to their age, and ultimately, their identity, will lead to fewer people expressing themselves, or seeking information online,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization. “In addition, there are tens of millions of U.S. residents without a form of government-issued identification. Those in Utah would likely be age-gated offline.”
The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which represents companies including Google and Facebook-parent Meta, claim age verification rules require consumers to expose even more of their personal information to tech companies or third parties.
“That data collection creates extra privacy and security risks for everyone,” CCIA wrote in a letter to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox last month.
“This mandated data collection would include collecting highly sensitive personal information about children, including collecting and storing their geolocation to ensure they do not reside outside of the state when confirming that they are of age to be using these services.”
On Wednesday, however, Cotton dismissed privacy concerns, calling it not a “serious argument” when identity or age verification is used by government agencies and online gambling sites. He also said the bill will actually reduce the amount of personal information tech platforms can collect by blocking the ability of kids under 13 to access sites.
“If a child is, say, too young to sign a contract or too young to open a bank account in the real world, they’re too young to sign terms of service agreements and use social media in the digital world,” Cotton stated.
Schatz added that the bill has not been presented to social media platforms for feedback, but predicted that in short order the industry will be deploying “an army of lobbyists” to fight it.
“The tech industry is going to come at this bill, and every other kids’ online safety bill, with everything it’s got,” Schatz said. “But the burden of proof is on those who want to protect the status quo, because the status quo is making a whole generation of users mentally ill.”
But, it is more than just mental illness that needs to be taken in to consideration.
For years, major social media companies claim that they bar children younger than 13 from their platforms, but this journalist has interviewed children all over the world as young as seven and eight years of ago, who have navigated getting accounts unbeknownst to their parents and teachers. And, in some case, those children have been literally threatened and been emotionally terrorized by strangers.
Older children teach younger children. The average age of children viewing online pornography in the United States alone is eight years of age.
For nearly 25 years, the internet has captured and made addicts and victims of children culminating to the current massive mental health decline of younger generations.
The onslaught of the internet only has increased over the years. Children have become fertile grounds putting children at risk sexually, for bullying, and coercing them into sex-texting, and even preying upon them to commit suicide.
In the end, adults should be asking themselves, “How could we have done this to our children?”
We are raising a generation of pedophiles with the onslaught of the sexual indoctrination thrown at children today.
The internet is a massive cesspool bringing out the worst in humanity where perverts meet other perverts where they validate each other and they prey on children.
These legislative efforts are a good start even though the internet titans’ lobbyists on K Street will undoubtedly unleash a massive and expensive pushback.
These legislative efforts are finally tackling what is known across society.
We have failed children, especially those who have never known the world pre-internet.
Nearly 75-80 million of the nearly 330 million citizens in the United States were born after 1990. They have no idea what the world was like pre-internet. Most of them today have no idea how to read a map.
For journalists, like this one who has investigated the connection between the internet and the negative impact on children for almost a quarter of a century, if nothing else, these bills will finally open the doors to a national conversation at every kitchen table.
It the end, it is time for every adult to stand up for protecting every child in America and put children first and take the power away from the internet titans once and for all.
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