The bill, called the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, would also prohibit the use of algorithmic content recommendations for all minors in order to reduce the addictive elements of social media. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL).
“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 statement. “Our bill will help us stop the growing social media health crisis among kids by setting a minimum age and preventing companies from using algorithms to automatically feed them addictive content based on their personal information.”
The text of the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would require social media platforms to “take reasonable steps beyond merely requiring attestation, taking into account existing age verification technologies, to verify the age of individuals who are account holders.” Companies would likewise be required to use “verification technologies and documentation” to confirm that a minor user’s parents explicitly grant the child permission to use the platform.
“There is no doubt that our country is facing a growing mental health crisis and a deteriorating culture of violence. Children and teenagers across our nation are dying, families are being devastated, and our society is withering,” Britt added in the statement. “The only beneficiaries of the status quo are social media companies’ bottom lines and the foreign adversaries cheering them on. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact the commonsense, age-appropriate solutions needed to tackle this generational challenge.”
Lawmakers introduced the bill as legislation to ban or restrict TikTok, a social media platform controlled by Chinese technology company ByteDance, continues to advance through Congress. Lawmakers have called the application “digital fentanyl,” a reference to the addictive properties of the limitless stream of vertical videos offered by the platform.
TikTok has indeed emerged in recent years as the most widely used platform among American minors: children and teenagers spent an average of 99 minutes per day on the application as of 2021, far exceeding the amount of time spent on YouTube and other rivals, according to data from Qustodio. Social media firms such as Meta have accordingly scrambled to add vertical video components to their applications.
TikTok announced amid the criticism from lawmakers that the company would establish default time restrictions for minor users in an effort to reduce young people’s time spent on the platform. Users younger than 18 years old will be subject to a default daily screen time limit of 60 minutes, after which “teens will be prompted to enter a passcode to continue watching, requiring them to make an active decision to extend that time,” and will be encouraged to create a daily screen time limit if they spend more than 100 minutes on the platform.