FEDERAL LEGISLATION NEEDED TO PROTECT CHILDREN ON SOCIAL MEDIA

The harm that social media can do to children and youth is well documented. (See this previous post for more detail.) Clearly, the social media platforms are not going to do what’s necessary to keep our kids safe online on their own. No significant relevant federal legislation has been passed since the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). A lot has changed since then and new federal legislation is needed.

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

Europe has done a better job than the U.S. of protecting everyone’s privacy and well-being on social media, including that of children. Its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is four years old and provides greater protections than U.S. laws. Meta (formerly Facebook) was recently fined $400 million because its Instagram subsidiary violated European regulations on the protection of children’s data. [1]

The social media platforms’ business model is to hook kids at a young age, amass extensive personal information about them and their online and consumer behavior, and then use these to engage in lucrative (for them) marketing to the kids in ways that too often promote toxic content and harm kids’ well-being and mental health. [2]

Two pieces of relevant federal legislation are being considered in the U.S. Senate:

  • Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA, Senate bill 3663) and
  • Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0, Senate bill 1628)

These bills seek to provide privacy protections for children and youth, limit individually targeted advertising (referred to as surveillance advertising), and require the social media platforms to put the interests of young people first. For example, KOSA would:

  • Provide families with the tools and safeguards to protect children’s well-being and health,
  • Require transparency from the social media platforms about the data they are capturing and the algorithms they are using for promoting content and advertising, and
  • Establish accountability for harms caused by social media.

COPPA 2.0 would, for example:

  • Extend to 13 to 16-year-olds the prohibition on social media platforms capturing children’s personal information without their consent and require the platforms to delete any such information they collect if requested to do so,
  • Ban individually targeted marketing to children,
  • Establish a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors,” and
  • Create a Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to monitor and regulate data privacy for and marketing to minors.

Some concerns have been raised, particularly about KOSA. Some privacy advocates have raised concerns that it would allow parents to spy on and control children’s activities online. They worry about unsupportive parents spying on LGBTQ+ youth. They worry that politicians could force the social media platforms to block information on topics the politicians dislike, such as abortion information. And they worry that the social media platforms will block broad arenas of information to avoid liability for possible harm to children.

Trying to regulate social media platforms to keep children safe is complicated, but it’s clear that steps need to be taken to reduce the significant harm that’s occurring. The first laws and sets of regulations won’t be perfect, but we need to act. Then, we can figure out what is and isn’t working and make improvements.

I encourage you to contact your Representative and Senators in Congress and to tell them you support regulation of the social media platforms to prevent them from harming our children and youth. Urge them to support the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA, Senate bill 3663) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA 2.0, Senate bill 1628).

You can find contact information for your U.S. Representative at  http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your U.S. Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

If you’re interested, you can sign-up here for an online information session and Rally for Kids’ Online Safety next Tuesday, September 13, from 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. eastern time. You’ll learn more about how you can support the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0). Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal will discuss how these bills would revolutionize social media platforms’ treatment of kids and teens, requiring them to put young users’ wellbeing ahead of their profits. If passed, the bills would ban surveillance advertising to minors, extend privacy protections to teens, and  set the stage for a safer internet for children and youth. They would also hold the platforms accountable for exploiting kids’ vulnerabilities. Advocates, including Fairplay and members of its Screen Time Action Network, will discuss how you can take action to help get these bills passed.

[1]      Business Talking Points, 9/6/22, “Instagram fined over protection of teenagers’ information,” The Boston Globe from the New York Times

[2]      Corbett, J., 7/27/22. “ ‘Critical’ online privacy protections for children advance to Senate floor,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/07/27/critical-online-privacy-protections-children-advance-senate-floor-vote)

2 thoughts on “FEDERAL LEGISLATION NEEDED TO PROTECT CHILDREN ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  1. Hi John, I was reading a flyer about question 1 And flipped it over to see your face! I hope things are well! I still enjoy your blog updates/emails and share them with others and think you are doing important things! All is well in the Flynn household. “Teenytunes” is in a bit of hibernation mode but I am still working towards advancing outcomes for our young learners. I recently took a leadership position in special education in a new district (scituate). It was scary to make a move after 15 years in one place (norwell), but it’s been a great professional learning opportunity. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge! Sincerely, Charleen Flynn PMC cohort 2

    1. Charleen, Great to hear from you! My wife and I were recruited to be a retired couple who support Question 1 and they did a video and a bunch of stills a couple of months ago. We may appear in a TV ad for Question 1 at some point. Our 30 seconds of fame if it happens!

      I hope all’s well with you and your family and that your new job goes well. I hope you get to revive Teenytunes at some point.

      Both my wife and I are retired. We are enjoying a quieter fall after a busy August. We went to Maine for a mini-vacation and to pick up a grandson at summer camp. We then flew home with him to LA and spent a week with the grandkids and family there. We were home briefly and took the train to NYC to see a couple days of the US Open tennis tournament. All great fun but a bit hectic. Glad to be home and getting back into the routine, including activities around the elections of course.

      Thanks for reading and sharing my blog! I enjoy doing it, hope it’s informative, and it’s an outlet for me given all my frustration with the current state of policy and politics in this country.

      Take care, John

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