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