Four senators want to ban children from using social media and have authored legislation to prevent kids under age 13 from accessing the tech platforms out of concerns about digital danger.
The bipartisan quartet’s proposed “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act” would also require parental consent for teenagers, ages 13 through 17, to use social media apps and would restrict tech companies from using algorithmic recommendations to show content to everyone under 18 years old.
Sens. Katie Britt, Alabama Republican; Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican; Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat; and Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, believe social media usage corresponds with kids having poor mental health and want the government to intervene.
Mr. Murphy said he is a parent of two young kids who has seen the damage of social media companies committed to addicting American youth, particularly through the use of algorithms that recommend content.
“These algorithms are sending many down dangerous online rabbit holes, with little chance for parents to know what their kids are seeing online,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement. “None of this is out of Congress’s control, and this bipartisan legislation would take important steps to protect kids and hold social media companies accountable.”
Mr. Cotton said the dangers posed by social media companies include such problems as enabling addiction, bullying, and sex trafficking among a range of issues affecting kids emotionally and physically.
“Just as parents safeguard their kids from threats in the real world, they need the opportunity to protect their children online,” Mr. Cotton said in a statement. “By setting an age limit of 13 — and requiring parental consent until age 18 — our bill will put parents back in control of what their kids experience online.”
Some critics say the Senate proposal is well-intentioned but misguided, and Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich urged lawmakers to listen to teenagers. Big tech companies including Amazon, Apple, Google, and Meta are among the partners of the Chamber of Progress.
“This bill threatens the millions of teens who live in households without supportive parents, for whom online communities are often a refuge,” Mr. Kovacevich said in a statement. “And the bill’s prohibition on algorithmically targeted content would actually make it harder for services to steer teens towards age-appropriate content.”
The new federal proposal follows in the footsteps of state-level laws enacted by Mr. Cotton’s home state of Arkansas, and Utah. Arkansas’ state law intends to stop social media companies from providing accounts to children under 18 years old, unless the child has parental consent and their age is verified.
Utah’s new restrictions similarly require age verification and parental consent, with the rules also carrying a curfew aiming to stop kids under age 18 from using the platforms between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
The four senators’ bill is not the only federal proposal aiming to limit kids’ access to social media. For example, Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, has proposed legislation aiming to block social media for children under 16 years old.