“Addictive and harmful:” Bill would regulate social media for minors

Published 12:28 am Thursday, February 29, 2024

When Jenn’s 16-year-old son fell into an intense depression that led to a psychiatric hospital stay, she checked his online activity.

What she found shocked her. Over a six month period, an older man had infiltrated a group chat her son had with his friends on a gaming platform.

“We discovered that there was a groomer that he was speaking to who was an older man,” Jenn testified in front of the House Small Business Committee Wednesday afternoon.

“And he had convinced my son that they were in love and my son needed to go to CPS and tell them that our family was abusive and violent and hostile so that he could be removed from the home and then could run away with this groomer.”

Rep. Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood, wants to avoid future stories like Jenn’s with House Bill 463, which passed committee unanimously.

What’s in the bill?

House Bill 463 would require digital service providers, like social media platforms, to have users register their age before making an account.

If users register an age younger than 18, digital service providers would have to acknowledge that they are minors and follow certain rules.

First, providers would have to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to block content that is obscene or unlawful for minors and avoid¬†targeted advertisements for such content.

Second, providers would have to¬†allow a minor’s “verified caregiver” to control privacy and account settings, including the ability to monitor, deactivate and set time limits on their account.

Third, providers would have to limit their collection and use of a minor’s personally identifying information to what is strictly necessary in providing the minor access to their platform. They could not collection location data, either.

Providers could not to share, sell or use collected info to provide targeted ads.

Fourth, verified caregivers would have the opportunity to waive any of these regulations if desired. They could also review or download any collected personal information and ask providers to delete it.

Violations of the bill would be considered unfair, false, misleading or deceptive trade or commerce practices. The attorney general would have the ability to enforce it, but there are no specific penalties ascribed to violations in the bill.

‘Not perfect’ Committee discusses bill

Dietz said her bill is “aimed at protecting our children from online predators and exploitation that occurs from access to various social media platforms, and has created a mental health care crisis for our children.”

She said that social media platforms are creating endless content without limiting time children spend on platforms, using targeted algorithms and allowing child and adult users to connect with no oversight.

On a federal level, Congress is already trying to address the pitfalls of social media. It is evaluating a federal law passed in 1996, often referred to as Section 230, that grants social media platforms legal immunity from any content third parties post on their sites.

Clips from those congressional hearings that feature exchanges between members of Congress and social media leaders like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew have trended on the very platforms they own.

“While our legislative body cannot make changes to Section 230, we can pass a bill here in the Commonwealth that will protect Kentucky children from addictive and harmful approaches in the internal controls social media companies employ,” Dietz said.

Some of the language in the bill surrounding digital service providers’ requirements is intentionally vague, in light of ongoing lawsuits in other states that have passed similar legislation.

She said that after some back and forth, she thought it was best to leave it to “the companies to come up with their own ways to handle this.”

For example, there is no requirement to show documentation for age verification due to the potential legal complications.

Several representatives expressed a desire to strengthen the requirements and enforcement of the bill after there is more legal clarity.

Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville, praised the “good faith effort.”

“I just hope that the general public understands that because this is new territory, this bill is not perfect,” he said. “I don’t know what errors or flaws may exist, but we will learn those in the upcoming years. So I just ask the public for patience as we codify this and adjust as necessary.”