Opinion | Our Youngsters Deserve Higher: It is Time to Regulate Fb
From the moment kids first log into Instagram, the app gathers information about their interests, habits, and identity. Powerful online platforms devour this data and use it to pump toxic, attention-grabbing content onto screens – with full knowledge of the vulnerabilities of children and adolescents. This harmful, big-tech business model of approaching children early on, according to our own research, leads to depression, body image problems and even suicidal thoughts.
Every day, children are shown pictures of perfect bodies and weight loss ads. You are exposed to content with steam and alcohol. They will compete against their peers in an online popularity contest to see who can get the most “likes” or followers. Every day young people spend hours on platforms that market their online identities and monetize their data.
I lead the fight to stop Big Tech from persecuting kids and teens, keep our kids safe from dangerous content, and fund research on how social media affects children’s mental health.
This toxicity is not a by-product – technology platforms make money from it. When profits come at the expense of the well-being and safety of our children, Congress must intervene. I lead the fight to stop Big Tech from persecuting kids and teens, keep our kids safe from dangerous content, and fund research on how social media affects children’s mental health.
Children are uniquely at risk online, and our laws must reflect this with unique protections for children. Regulation works. More than twenty years ago, I successfully passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which has since been used by the Federal Trade Commission to regulate technology companies and how they interact with children. This is one of the reasons Facebook hasn’t officially allowed children under the age of 12 on its platform.
However, COPPA was passed before the age of social media and smartphones – the “Before Facebook” era. Today’s internet offers instant streaming, shopping, and socializing, mostly on mobile devices that are ubiquitous. The Internet is oxygen for children – they cannot live without it. And as the internet invades every area of our lives, we also need to improve regulations to accommodate the moment – especially when it comes to our children.
I introduced the bipartisan Child and Youth Online Privacy Act, or COPPA 2.0, which would introduce updated child privacy legislation into the books that builds on existing successful COPPA protections and extends it to youth under the age of 15. My bipartisan bill bans targeted advertising to children and offers parents an online eraser button to give them the option to erase the information companies have gathered about their children. Until we pass a new online child and youth privacy law, Big Tech will continue to track young people online wherever they go.
But we also need to protect our children from the harmful design features of the platforms, manipulative marketing, and dangerous content. The My Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act prohibits features like autoplay and push notifications that encourage kids to spend endless time on their devices. It would ban quantified popularity – like the number of likes a photo can get – for kids so they don’t get pushed into online popularity contests in a digital school canteen. It would also eliminate manipulative “influencer” marketing and harmful algorithms that direct children to inappropriate content.
Children live online in a range of threats to their wellbeing, and it’s no wonder Facebook’s internal research shows the negative impact these platforms have on teenage mental health. But we cannot rely on leaked documents for a full understanding of the impact today’s online ecosystem has on the psychological, physical and emotional development of our children and teens. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Children and Media Research Advancement (CAMRA Act) to fund a five-year National Institutes of Health research initiative worth $ 95 million on the impact of social media on children and adolescents. It’s time parents had an evidence-based understanding of how technology affects the brain, body, and behavior of young people.
As the world joins a global digital commons, we must create a bold regulatory framework that primarily protects our children. I am confident that at this Congress we will take steps to do that.