Today, Senators Schatz, Cotton, Murphy, and Britt introduced the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act. This bill would set the minimum age for social media users to 13, effectively banning 12 year olds and under from social media sites. It would also require parental consent for children 13-17 to use social media, establish age verification requirements, and prevent the use of algorithms in the content that kids see online.
Generally, FOSI is opposed to broad bans that can limit access to information. The goal of online safety legislation should not be to force kids offline, but to create better protections and safer digital spaces for them to learn, communicate, and express themselves.
This bill focuses on empowering parents and guardians, which is very important, but leaves out minors. Children have rights, particularly older teens, and should have the privacy and freedom to access information about sexuality, history, religion, and health. Parental controls are helpful, especially when setting parameters for younger kids, but a more successful approach is to reach an agreement as a family rather than setting strict rules. We want to empower both parents and kids to have these difficult and important conversations about what online safety looks like to them, and we offer resources to support these family discussions.
Fostering confidence in users and families through the use of safety tools and parental controls is an important part of creating safe online experiences. However, it is concerning that under this bill, unsupportive parents could limit or cut off their kids’ access to important information. We must also acknowledge the reality that there are parents who are not as connected, technologically literate, or simply present to have these important conversations, and their children do not deserve to be deprived of the benefits of being online.
Another concern about this bill is what the “reasonable” age verification requirement looks like. We agree with the bill authors that progress should be made on age assurance and only relying on self-declaration (voluntary entry of date of birth) is insufficient. Our 2022 research into age assurance reveals that people have legitimate concerns as well as strong feelings about how to provide age information in ways that are not too invasive. Users want choices, flexibility, and thoughtful consideration of equity concerns and family differences. Age assurance is complicated and nuanced, and there is no quick fix or single solution. We appreciate that this bill does not take a prescriptive approach to age assurance and theoretically allows a variety of methods. We hope that our past and future work around the complexities of age assurance will help these offices to improve age assurance regulations.
Finally, there is a very real need for a privacy law in the United States. A federal comprehensive data privacy law would lower the stakes for age assurance. If there were rules about what data companies could collect, how they must store it, and what it can be used for, people would feel more comfortable sharing their personal data to confirm their age. To its credit, this bill does establish restrictions on the use and retention of data collected for the purposes of age assurance. That is commendable, and we encourage other online safety bills to also include these requirements. Without such privacy protections, age assurance requirements could lead to the collection of more data from users without guardrails or use limitations.