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New York's push to restrict 'addictive' social media feeds for kids could spread across the US

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A groundbreaking push by New York to restrict children's “addictive” social media feeds could go viral across the US.

The nation's first law banning major tech companies like Instagram and TikTok from bombarding children with algorithm-based feeds is set to pass in Albany this week as lawmakers leave town for the rest of the year on Friday.

Parents in the Empire State would gain more control over their children's social media behavior under the two bills – an outcome that could have implications for mothers and fathers across the country, lawmakers and advocacy groups told The Post.

Governor Kathy Hochul has launched a last-minute public relations offensive on social media legislation. Ron Adar / M10s / SplashNews.com

“This can very quickly become a national standard, especially if New York and California join in, because that's already half the market,” Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn), who introduced the bill, said Tuesday.

But despite the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James, the law is still far from being finalized.

Lawmakers still have to pass the measures, and the big tech companies, which have already spent about a million dollars lobbying against the bills, are almost certain to file vicious lawsuits.

Hochul did not respond to The Post's request for comment on the tentative deal.

House Speaker Carl Heastie said he had yet to speak with his members about the proposal and declined to comment on the agreement when asked by The Post in a Capitol hallway on Monday. As of press time Tuesday, Democrats had not yet discussed the plan in a closed-door conference.

What the bills mean for parents:

Assuming the bills pass and potential lawsuits fail, parents can expect to gain more control over their children's social media habits.

Policymakers want to give parents more control to counter the growing mental health problems among young people that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and others have warned could lead to constant online presence. Alexei – stock.adobe.com

Part of the proposal would require companies to verify users' ages and obtain parental consent before allowing children access to algorithmic feeds, while another bill would prohibit tech companies from selling or otherwise profiting from minors' data.

A bill – the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act – will:

  • Prohibit social media companies from providing algorithm-based “addictive” social media feeds to children without parental consent. Children without parental consent could still access content provided to them by social media companies, such as a chronological timeline of posts.
  • Give parents the option to pause notifications on their children's social media accounts between midnight and 6 a.m.
  • Require social media companies to verify users' ages in a way that does not rely on government-issued ID.
A proposed law in Albany would require social media companies to develop a method to verify the age of minors who use their platforms. New Africa – stock.adobe.com

How the age verification will work is up to James, but the system must be “commercially viable and technically feasible” on social media platforms, according to the legislation.

James will also be given the right to sue social media companies for damages if they do not comply with his threat.

“You have contributed significantly to the success of this law,” Gounardes said of James.

But for Julie Samuels, president and CEO of Tech: NYC, a group lobbying against the legislation, the bills are too vague on the crucial age issue.

“Age verification is the single most important factor in determining whether this law really helps children, and the practice of leaving complex issues like this to an opaque legislative process has proven to be an ineffective form of legislation,” she told the Post.

A spokesman for Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, argued that the legislation would not fully protect young people because it focuses on apps rather than the online stores where they are downloaded.

“There is a better way,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Legislation should require app stores to obtain parental consent before their child downloads an app. This will allow parents to monitor and approve all of their teens' online activity in one place.”

“Children before profit”

Whether effective or not, New York's approach to enacting online social media law is likely to have national ripple effects, much like California's implementation of strict vehicle emissions standards that other states have adopted.

In fact, California lawmakers are seeking similar social media restrictions and could put them on a vote this fall, says Danny Weiss, chief advocacy officer at Common Sense Media, which supports the bills.

“The idea that there could be bookends on both sides of the country in two of the largest states with millions of children is really significant,” he said.

Social media companies are unlikely to adopt measures like age verification nationwide unless forced to do so by a state like New York, said Julie Scelfo, founder of Mothers Against Media Addiction, an organization that works to curb the harmful effects of technology on children.

“This bill will send a loud and clear message to social media companies that in New York we put our children before profits,” she said.

“They are making a fortune on the backs of our children, and we can't allow that to continue. They won't do it on their own, just like the tobacco companies didn't do it on their own or Ford didn't recall the Pinto on their own.”

Alex Theoret, father of two young sons who attend PS 290 elementary school in Ridgewood, said he would support the bill.

“If it protects them or keeps them from harm,” he said.

The teenagers who spoke to the Post, however, were not as supportive.

Vianka Galarza, 15, a sophomore at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, was shocked when she heard about the potential law.

“What the hell?” Galarza said. “I think this is so unnecessary. It causes unnecessary problems for teenagers.”

Additional reporting by Dorian Geiger

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