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May 15, 2023

Protecting Children Online

The practical measures that really get to the heart of the social media issue.

With a TikTok ban potentially in the works, lawmakers are working hard to address the bigger issue at hand.

U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced the Kids Online Safety Act. The senators teamed up because they saw a great need with our children’s mental health. Blackburn stated, “Over the last two years, Senator Blumenthal and I have met with countless parents, psychologists, and pediatricians who are all in agreement that children are suffering at the hands of online platforms.”

Blumenthal concluded: “[Parents] are demanding safeguards, means to disconnect, and a duty of care for social media. Our bill has strong bipartisan momentum. And it has growing support from young people who’ve seen Big Tech’s destruction, parents who’ve lost children, mental health experts, and public interest advocates. It’s an idea whose time has come.”

This bill seeks to build safeguards for kids on social media such as ensuring the algorithms are not contributing to the mental health crisis. Children have huge struggles with content on social media driving them to negative behaviors such as eating disorders, suicidality, bullying, group challenges that are dangerous, and other mental health disorders.

Kids are also on a doom scroll. On most social media platforms, each new post, reel, or video is geared to be a dopamine hit (a form of instant gratification) that is addictive to the user. Kids are particularly susceptible because of their still-developing brains. Parents want a way to help their kids stop scrolling. This bill has provisions in it that make social media companies accountable for putting those measures in place for kids on their platforms.

The Kids Online Safety Act also forces Big Tech to have anti-data-mining protection available for minors.

This bipartisan bill has already passed unanimously through the Commerce Committee. The hope is that it makes it all the way through without added pork or provisions that actually undermine the First Amendment rights of the users and companies.

Another pair of senators proposed an even more strident piece of legislation. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act. This bill would ban children under the age of 13 from social media altogether. To enforce this, children under the age of 18 would have to have both parental consent and an age check in order to have a social media account.

Cotton is tapping into the zeitgeist, saying, “This is an issue that unites parents all across the country, no matter what their political views on other matters might be.”

It isn’t just in Congress that lawmakers are making inroads to stem Big Tech’s negative cultural taint. Utah and Louisiana both have passed bills at the state level to protect children online from accessing pornography.

There have been too many tragedies because of unchecked social media use among children and teens and unrestrained pillaging and manipulation by social media and Big Tech. There are certainly those few parents who are unaware or incautious, but the majority of parents who care about their children are crying out for more tools to stop the flood of filth and sludge being fed to their children on these sites.

Conservative political pundit Allie Beth Stuckey recently interviewed Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a psychologist who has extensive experience working with patients who struggle with addiction and mental health. Dr. Kardaras explained the brain science behind exposing our children to screens (not TV, but iPhones, iPads, and other personal devices) and just how devastating the exposure to screens and eventually social media is for children and young adults. The intrinsic connections to ADHD and other processing disorders are heightened by early exposure to individual interactive screens like an iPad. He repeated multiple times throughout the interview to “delay, delay, delay” when it comes to letting your children have screen time. It is especially telling to note that even the titans of the Big Tech industry won’t let their own kids use social media.

It is encouraging to see such bipartisan cooperation on the issue of kids and Big Tech usage. That medium is changing faster and more dangerously than parents can keep up with. These changes echo the long-overdue anguish that parents and kids are already suffering from because of these platforms. It is high time more was done to protect our children in this arena.

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