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June 14, 2024 | GeneralNew YorkNewsTechnology

Protecting Our Children: New York’s Pioneering Legislation on Social Media Use for Minors

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Recently, Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Tish James, and other state lawmakers proposed and backed Senate Bill S7694A. This landmark legislation aims to restrict social media use among minors and limit Big Tech companies’ access to phone data from children. The proposed bill is a part of New York’s new initiative to combat privacy concerns surrounding children and social media and improve the mental health of minors across the state.

Understanding the Bills

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) bill is designed to curb the negative impacts of social media on minors. If enacted, the bill would prohibit social media companies from placing addictive algorithms on a minor’s social media feeds. It will encourage access to non-addictive, chronological, and educational content, but parents can also by-pass these restrictions through an app’s settings. The bill will also ban notifications from social media operators between 12 AM and 6 AM and limit the total number of hours minors can spend on social media. The bill requires social media companies to implement reasonable methods for verifying age restrictions that do not rely on biometrics or government IDs. Minors can still search for specific topics despite the restrictions. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) can bring actions against violators, impose civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and collect other remedies.

The New York Child Data Protection Act (NYCDPA) will require informed consent from the guardians of minors before an online site collects, uses, shares, or sells the personal data from that minor. Like the SAFE bill, the NYCDPA permits the OAG to enforce the legislation and collect damages and penalties up to $5,000 per violation.

Related Legislation

Similar legislation has been proposed or enacted in several states, including Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Florida, and California. In 2023, Arkansas created an act that imposes liability on those who bypass parental consent requirements, and Montana banned TikTok altogether. The growing push against Big Tech companies showcases a new side of social media law. Urgency for such measures was highlighted in 2021 when Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed internal research indicating the detrimental effects of Instagram on some teen girls.

Addressing the Issue

In 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning of the “profound risk” that excessive social media poses to the mental health of children. Studies have shown that prolonged social media use increases anxiety, depression, and self-harm among minors.

The proposed New York legislation targets platforms like TikTok, Meta (Instagram, Facebook), and X (formerly Twitter). Governor Hochul emphasized that this is one of many steps to transform social media usage among youth.

Objectives of the Legislation

The proposed bills mandate robust parental control features on social media platforms, ensuring that parents can better oversee and manage their children’s online activities. Additionally, they implement strict age verification processes to prevent underage users from creating accounts, enhancing the safety and appropriateness of content available to minors. The legislation also enforces stricter filters and blocks harmful content accessible to minors, creating a safer online environment. It strengthens data privacy protections for minors, preventing the exploitation or misuse of their personal information by social media companies. For more information on consumer privacy rights in New York, particularly on fingerprint and face scans when accessing accounts, visit here.

Opposition and Concerns

While the proposed legislation is a significant step towards protecting minors, it has faced opposition from various quarters. In 2017, a case went to the Supreme Court concerning a registered sex offender convicted of child molestation who was convicted in a lower court for accessing social media. The Supreme Court held that the sex offender’s access to social media was protected under the First Amendment. Major tech companies like Google, Snap, Meta, Amazon, and Apple, represented by TechNet, have expressed concerns over the impact on their first amendment rights.

The New York proposal represents a crucial effort to address the intertwined issues of children’s safety and mental health and privacy in the digital age. By implementing these bills, New York is proactively safeguarding the digital experiences of its youngest citizens, setting a precedent for other states to follow. This legislation not only aims to protect children from the harmful effects of addictive social media practices but also ensures that their personal data is not exploited for profit.

Conclusion

The recent New York bill may raise questions for parents, online business owners, and social media users. Our team of experienced lawyers can help you navigate the changing landscape of social media legislation while protecting your interests. If you are concerned about the impact of social media on your rights, reach out today.

Contributions to this blog by Katherine Baeppler and Lily Harrison

 

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash
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