Bipartisan Senate bill would require parental consent for teens to use social media

The legislation aims to ban platforms from using algorithms to recommend content to under-18s.

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A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that seeks to protect kids from the potentially harmful effects of social media. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would set 13 as the minimum age for using social media platforms, in line with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the current terms of many major services. Those aged between 13 and 17 would need parental consent to use social media apps, while platforms would not be allowed to use algorithms to recommend content to under 18s.

Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz and Chris Murphy introduced the bill alongside their Republican counterparts Tom Cotton and Katie Britt. The proposed legislation seeks to employ age verification technology, though it would prevent companies from using age verification data for other purposes. Were it to become law, the bill would establish a pilot program to offer platforms a government-provided age verification system. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general would have jurisdiction over the bill's provisions.

"Studies have shown a strong relationship between social media use and poor mental health, especially among children," the senators said in a press release. "With this clear evidence, the US Surgeon General has warned that 13 is too early for social media use and suggested that 16, 17, or 18 may be as well."

"The alarm bells about social media’s devastating impact on kids have been sounding for a long time, and yet time and time again, these companies have proven they care more about profit than preventing the well-documented harm they cause," Murphy said. "In particular, these algorithms are sending many down dangerous online rabbit holes, with little chance for parents to know what their kids are seeing online.”

This is hardly the first time that federal legislators have introduced bills in an attempt to protect children as they use online services. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal last year introduced the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which aimed to block platform holders from offering algorithmic recommendations to under 16s. Such companies would have been required to disable "addictive" features and offer kids tools to help them protect their data. KOSA sailed through the Commerce Committee unanimously in July, but it didn't pass the Senate before the end of the last congressional session.

Blumenthal and Sen. Dick Durbin introduced a bill in February that would give people the right to delete details of their internet activity that companies collected before they turned 13. In a related case as part of an FTC settlement related to COPPA, Epic Games last year agreed to delete Fortnite players' personal data unless they claimed to be 13 or older.

The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act follows similar efforts at state level. Last month, Utah became the first state to require parental consent for under-18s to use social media. The legislation grants parents full access to their children'' accounts, including private messages. The laws are set to take effect next March, but it's not yet clear how they'll be enforced.

Correction 4/26/2023 8:09PM ET: This story originally stated that KOSA failed to make it out of committee during the last congressional session. However, it passed the Commerce Committee in July. We apologize for the error.