Bipartisan Senate bill unveiled to block kids from social media

The bill also sets parental consent perimeters for teenagers.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 7:44 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A bipartisan bill put forward by 4 senators would block kids under 13 from joining social media. It would also require teenagers, aged 13-17, to obtain parental consent to join the sites. Third, it would force social media companies to change how they conduct business.

The bill was introduced by four senators who hold starkly different political priniciples. But one thing they do have in common is that they are all parents of young children. U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Katie Britt (R-Ala.) introduced ‘The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act.’

“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 agreement and use social media in the digital world. They’re too young to see a rated “R” movie, they’re too young to be exposed to much of the content that is on social media and manipulating what they think, what they feel about themselves and others,” said Sen. Cotton.

The Senators cited a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed mental health issues are on the rise among America’s youth. It found two-thirds of high school girls and one third of high school boys feel persistently sad or hopeless.

“There is no doubt that our country is facing a growing mental health crisis and a deteriorating culture of violence. Children and teenagers across our nation are dying, families are being devastated, and our society is withering. The only beneficiaries of the status quo are social media companies’ bottom lines and the foreign adversaries cheering them on,” said Sen. Britt.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the four of us are all raising young children,” added Sen. Murphy, “because parents want and deserve tools to help keep their kids safe online. Today, they simply don’t have those tools. This bill fixes that.”

The “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act” would require social media companies to update age verification measures based on the latest technology. It would also create a pilot project for a government provided age verification system that platforms can choose to use. The Senators said the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would enforce the provisions of the bill.

The lawmakers said they didn’t ‘shop’ the bill to social media companies before introducing it. They expect a fight ahead.

“The tech industry is going to come at this bill and every other kids online safety bill with everything it’s got. And, they are going to come up with individual use cases and scenarios to try to poke holes in this. 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,” said Sen. Schatz

Meta, the operator of Facebook and Instgram, has not yet responded to a request for comment. TikTok said it would not comment specifically on the bill. TikTok noted the social media site offers safety and privacy controls. TikTok has also undertaken steps to create age-appropriate experiences on the platform. Younger teens who use TikTok are intentionally restricted access to features such as direct messaging and users aged 13-15 have their profiles set to private by default. Minors also cannot send or receive virtual gifts or livestream on the site.