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Following Surgeon General warning, Britt pushes social media age restriction

The bill would prohibit social media companies from allowing children under the age of 13 to use their platform.

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Sen. Katie Britt, R-Alabama, called for legislation to prohibit social media use by children younger than 13 and require strict age verification on Monday while reacting to United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s May 23 advisory on social media and youth mental health.

The advisory analyzes benefits and harms of social media use to adolescents and suggests current evidence is insufficient to conclude whether social media is safe for youth mental health. The advisory reviews literature that suggest more than three hours per day on social media doubles the risk of depression and anxiety in adolescents. It also examines issues of cyberbullying and body image; however, the thrust of the report points to the lack of evidence and barriers to needed data.

“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘is social media safe for my kids.’ The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” Murthy said. “We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis — one that we must urgently address.”

Britt signed on as a cosponsor to S.1291, the “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act.” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, introduced the bill on April 26, but it has not progressed in committee.

“I am grateful to see this timely and thorough report from Dr. Murthy. Clearly, there is unequivocal, bipartisan support at the highest levels of our medical community and of our federal government for ending the youth mental health crisis in our country. Thankfully, there are tangible solutions, and Congress has both the power and the duty to act with all due haste,” Britt said.

The bill would prohibit social media companies from allowing children under the age of 13 to use their platform. This is consistent with many company policies, but codification holds liability implications, as failing the bill’s standards would be treated as a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act subject to civil actions by states.

The bill would also require social media companies to use current technology — more than a simple question but less than requiring government ID — to verify age. They would be prohibited from using verification data or any personal data of an individual younger than 18 in an “algorithmic recommendation system.”

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“The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would represent a major step to address the Surgeon General’s recommendations, including developing age-appropriate health and safety standards, requiring a higher standard of data privacy for children, and strengthening and enforcing age minimums,” Britt said. “We can and we must put children over the profits of social media companies. I encourage my colleagues to support this bipartisan, commonsense legislation and put parents back in the driver’s seat when it comes to protecting our children.”

Samuel Stettheimer is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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