NYC planning regulations on what kids see on social media feeds

In a move that might catch up in the rest of the country, lawmakers in New York say they’re finalizing new regulations to allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts curated by whichever platform’s algorithm.

Big tech companies have been lobbying hard against The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids act, prohibiting the provision of addictive feeds to minors. But Albany lawmakers said they were now close to the finish line nonetheless.

Letitia James, Attorney General of New York, and the state’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul have been advocating for the legislation since October and have called the algorithmic feeds a dopamine for children and a major cause for mental health problems.

If the bill is passed by the end of the week, this would be the first-in-the-nation legislation barring big tech companies like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok from bombarding children with algorithm-based feed.

“Our kids deserve nation-leading policies that safeguard their mental health and combat addictive social media algorithms,” said Hochul on Tuesday, accusing the companies of attacking “young people” with such techniques.

Under the new rules, young social media users would see a chronological feed of content from users they already follow instead of content suggested by automated algorithms. The latter is usually based on what a user has clicked on in the past.

The SAFE For Kids Act would also give parents the ability to pause notifications on their kids’ social media accounts between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. The young users’ age would also need to be verified by social media companies.

The initiative seems well-intentioned. Last year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned in a new advisory that excessive social media can pose a “profound risk” to the mental health of children.

Opponents of the bill, though, say that it could actually worsen the social media environment for children – even though quite a few of these organizations are financed by technology firms.

They point out that web firms would probably end up collecting even more information about young users, and there are also concerns about unintended consequences.

Chamber of Progress, a tech industry organization, said that the bill could actually prevent platforms from ensuring age-appropriate feeds for young users instead of giving teenagers a healthier online experience.

“It could mean that whoever posts most recently goes to the top of a teen’s feed – even if that post is spam, hate speech, or other harmful content,” said Chamber of Progress on its website.

Critics also point out that legal challenges are more than possible if the bill is passed. This already happened last year when a state law in Arkansas, which would also have required parental consent for their children to create social media accounts, was put on hold by a federal judge.