Statement from Children’s Advocacy Groups on
New Social Media Bill by U.S. Senators Schatz and Cotton
Washington, D.C., April 26, 2023– Several children’s advocacy groups expressed concern today with parts of a new bill intended to protect kids and teens from online harms. The bill, “The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act,” was introduced this morning by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR).
The groups, including Common Sense Media, Fairplay, and The Center for Digital Democracy, play a leading role on legislation in Congress to ensure that tech companies, and social media platforms in particular, are held accountable for the serious and sometimes deadly harms related to the design and operation of these platforms. They said the new bill is well-intentioned in the face of a youth mental health crisis and has some features that should be adopted, but that other aspects of the bill take the wrong approach to a serious problem.
The groups said they support the bill’s ban on algorithmic recommendation systems to minors, which would prevent platforms from using personal data of minors to amplify harmful content to them. However, they said they object to the fact that the bill places too many new burdens on parents and creates unrealistic bans and institutes potentially harmful parental control over minors’ access to social media. By requiring parental consent before a teen can use a social media platform, vulnerable minors, including LGBTQ+ kids and kids who live in unsupportive households, may be cut off from access to needed resources and community. At the same time, kids and teens could pressure their parents or guardians to provide consent. Once young users make it onto the platform, they will still be exposed to addictive or unsafe design features beyond algorithmic recommendation systems, such as endless scroll and autoplay. The bill’s age verification measures also introduce troubling implications for the privacy of all users, given the requirement for covered companies to verify the age of both adult and minor users. Despite its importance, there is currently no consensus on how to implement age verification measures without compromising users’ privacy.
The groups said that they strongly support other legislation that establish important guardrails on platforms and other tech companies to make the internet a healthier and safer place for kids and families, for example the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), COPPA 2.0, bi-partisan legislation that was approved last year by the Senate Commerce Committee and expected to be reintroduced again this year.
“We appreciate Senators Schatz and Cotton's effort to protect kids and teens online and we look forward to working with them as we have with many Senators and House members over the past several years. But this is a life or death issue for families and we have to be very careful about how to protect kids online. The truth is, some approaches to the problem of online harms to kids risk further harming kids and families,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “Congress should place the onus on companies to make the internet safer for kids and teens and avoid placing the government in the middle of the parent-child relationship. Congress has many good policy options already under consideration and should act on them now to make the internet healthier and safer for kids.”
“We are grateful to Senators Schatz, Cotton, Britt and Murphy for their efforts to improve the online environment for young people but are deeply concerned their bill is not not the right approach,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “ Young people deserve secure online spaces where they can safely and autonomously socialize, connect with peers, learn, and explore. But the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act does not get us any closer to a safer internet for kids and teens. Instead, if this legislation passes, parents will face the same exact conundrum they face today: Do they allow their kids to use social media and be exposed to serious online harms, or do they isolate their children from their peers? We need legislative solutions that put the burden on companies to make their platforms safer, less exploitative, and less addictive, instead of putting even more on parents’ plates.”
"It’s critical that social media platforms are held accountable for the harmful impacts their practices have on children and teens. However, this bill’s approach is misguided. It places too much of a burden on parents, instead of focusing on platforms’ business practices that have produced the unprecedented public health crisis that harms our children’s physical and mental well-being. Kids and teens should not be locked out of our digital worlds, but be allowed online where they can be safe and develop in age-appropriate ways. One of the unintended consequences of this bill will likely be a two-tiered online system, where poor and otherwise disadvantaged parents and their children will be excluded from digital worlds. What we need are policies that hold social media companies truly accountable, so all young people can thrive,” said Katharina Kopp, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Democracy.