Hawaii Sen. Schatz Leads Effort To Ban Kids Under 13 From Using Social Media

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz introduced bipartisan legislation to regulate who can use social media as part of an effort to bolster online child safety.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, are leading a bipartisan effort to set age limits on who can use social media. (Nick Grube/Civil Beat)

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is at the forefront of an effort to ban kids under 13 from having social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

On Wednesday, Schatz unveiled new legislation that seeks to regulate who can have access to social media and require tech companies to put strict age restrictions in place to ensure that minors are not creating their own accounts without parental approval.

The bill also seeks to block social media companies from using its algorithms to recommend content to users under 18.

The driving force behind the legislation, Schatz said, is the well-being of America’s children.

For too long, he said, social media companies have profited off making children feel agitated, anxious and depressed because eliciting those feelings increase engagement with their products and therefore bolsters their bottom lines.

He cited a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that 57% of teen girls and 29% of teen boys in the U.S. reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless, and that one in three seriously considered attempting suicide.

“Our bill is a common sense bipartisan approach to help to stop the suffering,” Schatz said during a Capitol Hill press conference.

The Hawaii senator was joined by his fellow legislative co-sponsors, including U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and U.S. Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama. Both Cotton and Britt are Republicans while Schatz and Murphy are Democrats.

Throughout the press conference, the senators stressed that their concerns crossed party lines, and were those shared by millions of Americans, particularly those with young children, across the country.

“This is simply applying the age-old wisdom of mankind from the real world to the digital world,” Cotton said. “We don’t let minors sign contracts. We don’t let them open bank accounts. We don’t let them enlist in the military. We don’t let them drink alcohol or smoke tobacco without parental consent.”

The legislation already has its skeptics, including those concerned about it infringing on users’ First Amendment rights and even some fellow senators.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota, told Wired that the bill felt like something from the past when lawmakers tried to assign ratings to music that might be deemed inappropriate for young children.

​​“We kind of went through this when Tipper Gore was trying to ban music for some people,” Smith said.

Schatz acknowledged that the bill will likely be debated as it is considered in the Congress.

He also said he expects significant pushback from the tech companies that will be forced to comply with the bill’s new requirements or else face stiff penalties, which he said could be as much as $10,000 a day per user for violations.

“The tech industry is going to come at this bill and every other kids online safety bill with everything it’s got, and they are going to come up with individual use cases and scenarios to try to poke holes in this,” Schatz said.

“But the burden of proof is on those who want to protect the status quo because the status quo is making a whole generation of users mentally ill.”

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