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New bill would ban anyone under 16 from using social media
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) is proposing a bill banning users under 16 from accessing social media. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

By Christiano Lima

Washington Post

A growing number of U.S. policymakers and federal officials are angling to keep children and young teenagers off social media entirely, citing mounting concerns that the platforms may harm their well-being and mental health. It’s a notable escalation in the rhetoric around keeping kids safe online, which has largely focused on setting new digital protections.

The push gained traction after the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday that he believes 13 is “too early” for kids to be joining apps like Instagram and TikTok, which he said can create a “distorted environment” that “often does a disservice” to kids.

Since then, other officials including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and the Federal Trade Commission’s Alvaro Bedoya have either voiced support or shared the remarks on Twitter. Jim Steyer, a prominent children’s safety advocate, called the comments “a huge deal.”

“This is exactly the kind of leadership we need from our Federal government when it comes to educating the public about technology’s impact on society,” Steyer, whose advocacy group Common Sense Media has close ties to the White House, said in an emailed statement.

Now the movement is fueling legislation on Capitol Hill: A House Republican on Thursday is introducing a bill to ban kids and teens under 16 from using social media.

The bill represents one of the most stringent efforts yet to keep kids off major platforms, going far beyond more narrow bipartisan proposals to set up guardrails for kids online.

The measure, led by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), would require companies to verify users’ ages and allow parents to sue them if they fail to keep those under 16 off their sites. It would also empower federal and state agencies to enforce the standards.

The proposal sets a high bar: While lawmakers have introduced bills to expand restrictions on practices like targeting ads to users up to 18, few have called for outright bans.

Stewart likened the effect social media can have on children and teens to that of drugs, a refrain that’s becoming increasingly common in Washington.

“We protect our children from drinking, from smoking, from driving. They can’t drive when they’re 12,” he said in an interview. “We should protect them from the impacts of social media.”

Many social media platforms, including TikTok and Twitter, already prohibit users under 13 from joining, but some such as YouTube offer a separate service designed for kids, while others like Instagram have mulled launching their own.

Those plans have faced intense scrutiny from children’s safety advocates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have said they don’t trust the companies to safeguard their children.

Stewart’s proposal would open companies up to liability if they fail to adequately vet users’ ages and likely pose significant compliance challenges for companies, who have poured major funds into developing verification tools they acknowledge can fall short.

Many kids and teens don’t have identification, while others find workarounds to join platforms. In turn, a number of platforms have resorted to asking users to provide their birthdays.

Tech industry leaders have urged lawmakers to help those efforts by crafting legislation to set up standards or best practices for age verification. Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of U.S. public policy, told Senate lawmakers at a hearing in 2021 that any effort to update children’s privacy protections should include “a better way to verify age across the internet.”

NetChoice, a trade group representing social networks including TikTok and Twitter, pushed back on the surgeon general’s comment that 13 is “too early” for kids to be on social media, arguing such decisions should be left to parents. 



1 thought on “New bill would ban anyone under 16 from using social media

  1. Pingback: New bill in Utah would ban/protect anyone under 16 from using social media — The Most Revolutionary Act | Vermont Folk Troth

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