Pushes for regulations to protect minors from harmful aspects of social media platforms
On Tuesday, September 19, Illinois Deputy Minority Leader Sue Rezin (R-Morris) brought together some of the nation’s leading social media experts to testify before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee in support of her efforts to pass legislation to protect minors from potentially harmful algorithms that are designed to make them addicted to social media.
Today’s subject matter hearing in Chicago focused solely on Sen. Rezin’s Senate Bill 1126 and highlighted the urgency on why Illinois should act on this issue. Specifically, the legislation would regulate data management practices of online or social media companies where minors are reasonably likely to access services, products, or features by requiring companies to implement age-appropriate design code.
“There are far too many children within our state and nation who have horrific stories about their time and experiences on social media platforms,” said Sen. Rezin. “These children do not fully comprehend the real-world consequences of their use of social media. Meanwhile, we know from various different sources that these social media giants know about the harm they may be inflicting and instead of preventing it from occurring, it appears to be a cornerstone of their business model.”
Experts from today’s hearing, Camille Carlton, Senior Policy Manager for Center for Humane Technology, and Robert Weil, Director of Research, Policy, and Field Services, Educational Issues for American Federation of Teachers, agreed that regulation is needed to keep children safe from the harms of social media.
“The Center for humane technology supports the age-appropriate design code proposed in this legislation because they properly balance necessary guardrails with product innovation,” said Carlton. “The bill focuses solely on the design of products, the aspects that companies themselves control, such as algorithmic design and personal data collection.”
“Regulations mandate car manufacturers equip vehicles with seatbelts, ensuring parents have the means to protect their children,” said Weil. “Similarly, social media companies should incorporate safety features or what might be called ‘digital seatbelts’ into their platform. This would provide parents with tools to safeguard their children online.”
During the hearing, Matthew Bergman, Founding Attorney of Social Media Victims Law Center, also testified, pointing to research showing that excessive social media use can result in negative effects on mental health, including increased rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness, and that minors are more susceptible to these negative effects due to their limited life experiences and developing brains.
“If you look at what has occurred since 2012, you see a spike in mental health challenges among our young people and what is very significant about that is that this spike coincides with the advent of social media,” said Bergman. “You could solve 80 percent of the problems in two weeks by simply turning down the algorithms making them less addictive and providing some verification so that a person really is who they claim to be.”
One of the major issues Sen. Rezin’s legislation seeks to address is ensuring that online and social media companies can no longer prey on children to benefit their bottom line.
“We have a responsibility and obligation to put in place guardrails that make these platforms safer. Big Tech has skirted regulation for far too long, pouring tens of millions of dollars into stopping it.” said Zamaan Qureshi, Co-Chair of Design It For Us. “Big Tech has repeatedly told the public to ‘trust us’ and failed to heed their promises. Internal documents and conversations have shown that the industry has time and again – when presented with the opportunity to make their platform safer – chosen profit over privacy and safety.”
Sen. Rezin intends to continue to work with these experts, and other stakeholders, to make any necessary changes to her legislative proposal to ensure Illinois takes action to prevent avoidable harm to unsuspecting children within the state.