Online safety policy has been one of the most bipartisan areas of collaboration recently and jurisdictions are racing to create new regulations that protect their citizens. States across the U.S. are no exception, as the past few years have seen dozens of bills advance through legislatures including the establishment of data privacy rights, new requirements for online content moderation, age restrictions for accessing social media, and age-appropriate design codes.
Maryland joined the conversation as the 2023 legislative session included the introduction and advancement of the Maryland Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (also known as the Kids Code) and the Social Media Regulation and Safety for Children. The Kids Code, modeled after California’s act that became law last year and the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code, passed the House of Delegates but did not advance out of the Senate. The Social Media Regulation would require platforms to delete all data on children under 13 or face a fine, and also did not advance this past session.
On May 31, 2023, FOSI hosted the inaugural FOSI Briefs the States event in Annapolis Maryland. This panel discussion convened a variety of experts to focus on recent online safety legislation in Maryland and how these policies will impact Maryland families.
This in-person event featured a networking luncheon and a panel discussion around the Maryland Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, the importance of nuance in drafting online safety policy, the impact of research, and recommendations for families as they navigate life online. Panelists discussed both the positives and the risks of online life and took audience questions.
Panelists for this event included:
- Dr. Mary Alvord, Psychologist & Director
- Aliya Bhatia, Center for Democracy and Technology
- Delegate Jared Solomon, Maryland General Assembly
- Shoshana Weissmann, R Street Institute
- Andrew Zack, FOSI (moderator)
Delegate Solomon shared his rationale for introducing the Kids Code and dove into the details of the bill. He argued that a design code is the best middleground, in that broad bans are unworkable (for both families and industry), but his approach would be effective in that it would be possible to comply with and enforce. The panel also discussed that the bill is not focused on content but on data management practices and harms analyses, and contains a 90 day right to cure (which is meant to resolve online safety concerns instead of immediate and punitive fines).
Ms. Weissmann and Ms. Bhatia discussed the thoughtful approach to drafting the Kids Code and highlighted some areas of concern and possible improvements, including the practice and accuracy of age verification methods and the many benefits that a national data privacy law would bring to this bill and online safety legislation generally (something that Congress has been working on for decades). They also elaborated that a risk-based and proportional approach is the right way to consider age assurance, where higher levels of assurance are needed for higher risk content and activities, and added that governments should not be overly prescriptive in age assurance regulation.
Dr. Alvord reflected on the APA’s recent guidance on adolescence and social media use, as well as the Surgeon General’s work in this space. She discussed the nuance in this work, that people are complex and there is no one size fits all recommendation that works well for everyone. Dr. Alvord also pressed the need for media literacy, the importance of continued research into both the harms and benefits of adolescents spending time online, and the power of building resilience in young people.
This was FOSI’s first state capital briefing of this kind, and as online safety legislation remains a focus in state legislatures, we plan to continue the series.
Thank you to our sponsors:
12:00 pm - 12:30 pm: Networking and lunch
12:30 pm - 12:40 pm: Opening Remarks
12:40 pm - 1:15 pm: Panel Discussion
1:15 pm - 1:30 pm: Audience Q&A, Closing Remarks