United States

Everything You Should Know About New York's Latest Law Against Social Media To Protect Minors

New York has approved legislation to ban social media platforms from exposing users under 18 to "addictive" algorithmic content without parental consent. This move is the latest in a series of measures to address online risks to children.

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New York state lawmakers have approved legislation that will bar social media platforms from exposing users under 18 to "addictive" algorithmic content without parental consent. This move makes New York the latest state to tackle online risks to children.

In addition to this, a companion bill aimed at restricting online sites from collecting and selling personal data of minors was also approved in the New York Assembly.

Governor Kathy Hochul praised the measures as a "historic step forward in our efforts to address the youth mental health crisis and create a safer digital environment for young people." She is expected to sign both bills into law.

The legislation could impact social media giants like Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, as these companies may face revenue losses. Supporters of the bill cited a Harvard University study showing that the six largest social media platforms generated $11 billion from advertising to minors in 2022.

The bill’s sponsors also referred to research linking excessive social media use by adolescents to higher rates of depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other mental health issues. However, the industry association NetChoice criticized the legislation, calling it an "assault on free speech and the open internet" by requiring websites to verify the age of visitors.

In response to criticisms, a spokesperson for Governor Hochul clarified that the law would not censor content and allows for age-verification methods that protect user anonymity. Meta, while not fully agreeing with all aspects of the bills, expressed some support, "While we don’t agree with every aspect of these bills, we welcome New York becoming the first state to pass legislation recognizing the responsibility of app stores," the company said in a statement.

Under the SAFE (Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation) for Kids Act, social media users under 18 must obtain parental consent to view "addictive" content—defined as algorithm-driven material designed to keep users engaged. Instead, minors would receive a chronological feed from accounts they follow or generally popular content, as was common before the introduction of addictive algorithms.

Minors can still search for specific topics, connect with friends, and join online groups, while non-addictive algorithms used for search functions or filtering unwanted content will remain permissible without parental consent.

A bill summary from the New York attorney general named Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O), opens new tab YouTube as among platforms that would likely be subject to the measure. According to the summary,  the legislation would apply to platforms whose feeds consist largely of user-generated content and material recommended to users based on the data it collects from them.

The New York Child Data Protection Act, the companion bill, prohibits online sites from collecting, using, sharing, or selling personal data of anyone under 18 without informed consent. For users under 13, this consent must come from a parent. Violators could face civil damages or penalties up to $5,000 per violation.

This legislation follows similar measures in other states, including Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, and Florida, with Utah being the first to regulate children's access to social media in March 2023.