June 16, 2024

Bills to regulate social media clear N.Y. Legislature

New York has became the first state in the nation Friday to pass legislation aimed at protecting children online and regulating their exposure to addictive social media platforms.

Lawmakers voted to send two bills to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk on the last day of legislative session for the year that will require social media companies turn off addictive algorithms for users in the state under the age of 18 unless a parent or guardian gives consent. The SAFE for Kids Act will also require minors to verify their age, or for platforms to get parental consent to send notifications to young users between midnight and 6 a.m.

The other measure, called the Child Data Protection Act, would mandate defaulted privacy settings for minors and limit internet companies’ ability to collect or share their personal data. 

“We must do all that we can to protect our kids from the harmful influence of addictive algorithms and unchecked data collection, the passage of the SAFE for Kids Act and the NY Child Data Protection Act are the straightforward first step in that effort,” bill sponsor Assemblymember Nily Rozic said. “These new laws signal that New York is taking the lead in putting New Yorkers’ safety and privacy at the forefront.”

The proposals to regulate social media use were a top priority for Hochul and legislative leaders this session. Studies show excessive social media use is a catalyst for mental health issues in young people and poor sleeping habits. 

“New York is leading the nation to protect our kids from addictive social media feeds and shield their personal data from predatory companies,” Hochul said in a statement. “Together, we’ve taken a historic step forward in our efforts to address the youth mental health crisis and create a safer digital environment for young people. I am grateful to Attorney General James and bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic for their vital partnership in advancing this transformative legislation.”

Trade groups representing big-tech companies like Google and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, continue to question how to enforce the age verification requirement and other parts of the legislation.

“…Neither the platforms impacted by these bills nor any of the lawmakers voting on them have any clarity on how age verification will work,” Tech NYC President and CEO Julie Samuels said in a statement Tuesday. “Age verification is the single most important factor in determining whether this legislation will actually help kids, and the practice of punting complex issues like this to an opaque rulemaking process has proven to be an ineffective form of lawmaking.”

Hochul announced the proposals together last year with state Attorney General Letitia James.

“Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic,” James said in a statement Friday. “The legislation my team worked on and supported along with bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic will help address the addictive features that have made social media so insidious and anxiety producing. I applaud Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Heastie, and the legislative majorities for supporting this legislation and for agreeing that protecting children’s mental health must be a top priority.

New York state is once again leading the nation, and I hope other states will follow suit and pass legislation to protect children and put their mental health above big tech companies’ profits.”

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