If you’re a parent, you know that social media can cause problems for your children. What you may not know is just how serious the problem is.
Social media apps aren’t innocent places for kids to share funny cat videos with their friends. They’re sophisticated data-collecting and marketing platforms that use personalized algorithms to addict users — including your children.
Using your children’s personal data, these apps have the ability to feed kids a relentless and personalized stream of toxic media, including sexually explicit material and content that can push children and teenagers, especially young girls, toward anorexia and suicide. And just this week, the Surgeon General released an advisory stating that social media can “have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
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And social media companies make no serious attempt to protect your kids from this content. More eyeballs on screens — however young — means more money for them.
These apps claim that they don’t allow kids under 13 on their platforms, but that’s a lie. Big Tech uses an intentionally weak honor system, only requiring young children to click a box that says they’re over 13. Meanwhile, there are virtually no protections for teenagers in the 13-18 age bracket.
Our children aren’t safe or healthy online because tech companies don’t try to keep them safe or healthy. Social media companies don’t care how young a user is or what they are doing on the platform, so long as they can monetize it.
We believe that parents should have the power to fight back and protect their kids online, just as they do in the real world. That’s why we introduced the bipartisan Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, which requires parental consent for teenagers under 18 to use social media and bans social media outright for children under 13.
This bill would also prevent social-media companies from using personalized algorithms to promote content to underage users, algorithms that send them down “rabbit holes” of harmful content.
Of course, Big Tech doesn’t like our bill. In fact, they’re working overtime to kill it with an allied assault by lobbyists and think tanks on their payroll.
Because our bill requires social media companies to verify a user’s age and parent-child relationship, opponents argue that this will create a new database of information.
That’s rich — social media companies already collect mountains of private information about your children, including their name, email address, date of birth, phone number, search history, location while logged in, who their friends are, what they say to their friends, their likes and dislikes, which ads they watch, what they purchase, who their family members are, and where they go to school. Social media companies — not age verification — are the real threat to kids’ privacy.
Opponents also claim that it’s impossible to verify someone’s age online, so we may as well not even try. That’s a lie as well. Age verification online is done every day for things like gambling, tobacco purchases, and other vices from which we want to shield our children.
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The government already has information that verifies your child’s age and relationship to you in places like the Social Security Administration — we’re just asking social media companies to confirm it when users sign up.
Third-party companies like IDME also already verify ages for government agencies at the local and state levels — in states as politically diverse as Wyoming and California — as well as the federal level.
Parents are standing up for their children like never before, in front of school boards and on sports fields, and the same should be true for the internet. What our children are seeing and learning online can be just as damaging — if not more so — as some of what they’re being taught in the classroom.
Reasserting parental control over what is taught in schools will come as little consolation if we can’t solve the social media problem too.
The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act puts parents — not social media companies — in charge of what apps their kids can use. And once parents are back in control, children will be safer and happier. We’ll continue fighting to pass it into law, for your kids and ours.
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Katie Britt represents Alabama in the United States Senate and serves on the Appropriations Committee, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Development and the Rules and Administration Committee.