WASHINGTON — A group of senators with kids want to keep their children, and all of America’s children, off social media.
A new bill from Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Katie Britt (R-Ala.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) would outlaw social media for kids under age 13 and require parental consent for youth under 18 years old to use social media.
“The growing evidence is clear: social media is making kids more depressed and wreaking havoc on their mental health. While kids are suffering, social media companies are profiting. This needs to stop,” Schatz said in a press release.
Cotton, a conservative senator with young children, added: “From bullying and sex trafficking to addiction and explicit content, social media companies subject children and teens to a wide variety of content that can hurt them, emotionally and physically.”
The bill’s text says social media companies would be required to take “reasonable steps beyond merely requiring attestation” to verify users’ age. In other words, it wouldn’t be good enough just to ask people to check a box saying they’re 18. But beyond that, the bill leaves it up to companies to use “existing age verification technologies” to figure out the ages of their users.
Civil liberties advocates expressed concerns about First Amendment protections and urged the Senate to focus instead on passing stalled antitrust legislation reining in Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Meta, and Amazon. Evan Greer, deputy director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future, called the proposed legislation “comically unconstitutional and deeply off base.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) also said the measure was “a bad idea.”
“I don’t know how someone would explain the constitutionality of it or whether or not it would be constitutional. I think parents need to be involved with what their kids do on the internet, but I don’t know about the government forcing it,” Paul told HuffPost.
In 2021, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of students to express themselves off school grounds in a case involving Snapchat use by high school students in Pennsylvania.
The Senate proposal is likely intended more as a conversation starter than an actual attempt to make law anytime soon.
The senators pointed to significant percentages of teenagers reporting feelings of sadness or hopelessness, saying in a press release that there is a “clear link between social media and poor mental health.”
Murphy told HuffPost in March, as lawmakers were increasingly discussing an outright ban on TikTok over national security concerns, that just banning youngsters from social media would be a challenge.
“We don’t have an age verification system right now that would make that effective,” Murphy said, adding that he suspected his kids didn’t put in their correct ages when using social media.
In his own household, Murphy said he didn’t allow his 11-year-old to use social media platforms, but his 14-year-old can.
“I’m living it,” Murphy said of his parenting experience. “It’s not a product that’s making any of these kids better human beings.”