New York lawmakers are cracking down on kids' exposure to social media algorithms

Under-18 users may need parental permission to view content on accounts they don't follow.

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A new bill out of New York is targeting the thing we all have a love-hate relationship with on social media: the algorithm. Governor Kathy Hochul joined lawmakers in introducing the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act, which would require a parent or guardian's consent to access algorithm-based feeds on platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. In her statement of support, Hochul called for adults to protect their children and villainized algorithms as technology that "follows" and "preys" on young people.

Lawmakers pointed to a range of studies demonstrating social media's association with poor mental health and sleep quality in young people — especially with excessive use. "Social media platforms are fueling a national youth mental health crisis that is harming children's wellbeing and safety," New York State Attorney General Letitia James said. "Young New Yorkers are struggling with record levels of anxiety and depression, and social media companies that use addictive features to keep minors on their platforms longer are largely to blame. This legislation will help tackle the risks of social media affecting our children and protect their privacy."

While pages like TikTok's For You face restrictions, the legislation would allow young people to view content from people they follow without permission. This setup means they can still see accounts with dangerous misinformation or ideals — such as promoting harmful eating habits — as long as they click the follow button. However, the law would also allow parents or guardians to limit the number of hours a person can spend on each app and to restrict access and notifications completely between midnight and 6 AM. Social media platforms that fail to enforce these policies could owe up to $5,000 in damages.

Lawmakers proposed an identical fine for violations of the New York Child Data Protection Act, which was introduced alongside the SAFE for Kids Act. This legislation would ban "collecting, using, sharing or selling" anyone under 18's personal data unless they receive consent or can prove it absolutely necessary.

SAFE for Kids Act's sponsors, State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, could bring it before the New York legislature as soon as early 2024. The bill has already faced opposition from Meta and TikTok, as well as Tech:NYC, which represents more than 800 tech companies. Concerns range from restricting free speech to losing out on community-building.

The first state-led bill of this kind passed in Utah earlier this year, requiring anyone under the age of 18 to obtain a parent or guardian's consent to create a social media profile — not just to explore the algorithm. Arkansas enacted a similar law soon after, but a judge blocked it from taking effect in September. Utah's legislation is set to take effect in early 2024. Each of these cases would require more comprehensive age verification on the part of social media companies, likely reviewing an ID of some sort — not something every early adolescent has.