In an effort to address concerns about the negative effects of social media on children’s mental health, a group of bipartisan lawmakers is proposing a bill that would set a minimum age for social media use.
The proposed legislation, led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would prohibit children under 13 from accessing social media and require affirmative consent from parents of kids aged 13 to 17. Additionally, the bill would restrict how tech companies use algorithms to serve minors.
The co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Katie Boyd Britt (R-Ala.). This proposal is part of a larger push from policymakers in both parties for tighter restrictions on social media companies.
Repeatedly checking social media devices has been shown to lead to changes in brain development, and there is concern that younger children may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of social media.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced two similar bills earlier this year, the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective (MATURE) Act and the Federal Social Media Research Act. The MATURE Act would set a minimum age requirement of 16 years old for all social media users, while the Federal Social Media Research Act would commission a government report on the harm of social media for children over 10 years.
Representative Chris Stewart (R-Utah) introduced the “Social Media Child Protection Act” in the House earlier this year. At the state level, both Arkansas and Utah have enacted laws requiring anyone under 18 to get parental consent to join social media platforms. The Utah bill also sets a digital curfew on teen social media use between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and requires age verification for anyone who wants to use social media in the state.
Although social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok already prohibit kids under 13 from using their platforms in their terms of service, these restrictions are easily evaded and loosely enforced. YouTube has created a specific app for children called YouTube Kids.
The proposed bill highlights the ongoing debate over how to balance children’s online safety and mental health with their access to communication and information. As lawmakers continue to explore different approaches to this issue, it remains to be seen how effective these proposed measures will be in protecting children from the potential harms of social media use.