Legislation Aims to Curb Harmful Social Media Effects on Teen Mental Health

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(WNY News Now) – New York officials, including Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul, have introduced legislation to address the escalating mental health challenges among young individuals due to social media and to safeguard children’s online data privacy.

New York – In response to mounting concerns over the detrimental effects of social media on adolescent mental health and child data privacy, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Governor Kathy Hochul, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, and Assemblymember Nily Rozic have unveiled two new bills aimed at protecting children from the perils of the digital age. Recent research has highlighted the severe impact of social media use on young people, including elevated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm, as well as the proliferation of dangerous viral “challenges.”

The two proposed bills, both sponsored by State Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic, aim to mitigate these concerns. The first, known as the “Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act,” seeks to restrict addictive features on social media platforms that disproportionately affect young users. It would provide users under 18 with a default chronological feed, similar to the platform’s earlier format, as opposed to the algorithm-driven feeds designed to prolong users’ screen time. Parents would have the option to limit their children’s platform access during specific hours and restrict the total daily usage. Moreover, social media platforms would be prohibited from sending notifications to minors between midnight and 6 AM without verifiable parental consent. The legislation would empower the Office of the Attorney General to enforce these measures and allow parents to sue for damages in case of violations.

The second bill, the “New York Child Data Protection Act,” is designed to protect the privacy of children online. It would prevent online platforms from collecting, using, sharing, or selling personal data of individuals under the age of 18 for advertising purposes without informed consent, particularly for those under 13, where parental consent is necessary. The Office of the Attorney General would oversee the enforcement of these rules, with potential damages and penalties for violations.

Multiple studies have linked excessive social media use to poor sleep quality and worsened mental health outcomes in young people. The proposed legislation intends to address these concerns and safeguard children’s digital privacy in an era where they are increasingly exposed to online risks.

The introduction of these bills has garnered broad support from various stakeholders, including educators, mental health advocates, and community organizations, all of whom view these measures as a vital step towards protecting the well-being of young individuals and ensuring their safety online. The legislation is seen as an important stride in the direction of securing a healthier digital future for children, providing safeguards that are essential as they navigate the complexities of the digital world.

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