New York officials announce bills to safeguard children online

Bill addresses mental health and privacy risks

October 11, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
Photo courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
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New York’s top lawmakers unveiled legislation aimed at protecting children from the perils of social media, highlighting the urgency as mental health issues among teenagers have doubled in recent years. 

The dual bills, endorsed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Nily Rozic, seek to curtail harmful social media features and limit the collection of children’s personal data.

“Social media platforms are fueling a national youth mental health crisis that is harming children’s wellbeing and safety,” said Attorney General James. “Young New Yorkers are struggling with record levels of anxiety and depression, and social media companies that use addictive features to keep minors on their platforms longer are largely to blame. This legislation will help tackle the risks of social media affecting our children and protect their privacy.”

The proposals come amid mounting concerns over the impact of social media on the well-being of young people. Recent studies point to rising rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm among minors frequenting these platforms.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The first bill, the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act, proposes to restrict addictive social media features that are detrimental to children’s mental health. The bill would set default chronological feeds for users under 18 and give parents the option to limit social media access during nighttime hours. 

The second bill, the New York Child Data Protection Act, aims to prohibit online platforms from collecting and sharing minors’ personal data for advertising without informed consent.

“As a parent of two young children, taking legislative action to protect our children on social media is personal,” said Gounardes. “For years we’ve implemented safeguards to shield youth from major industries such as tobacco, alcohol, and personal vehicles. 

“Social media can be just as harmful, and it’s crucial that big tech companies no longer circumvent sensible regulations designed to protect their youngest users. Today is a crucial step in ensuring big tech can no longer prioritize profits over children’s well-being,” he said.

Experts and advocates praised the proposed legislation. 

“As attorneys who litigate cases involving catastrophic injuries caused by tech products, children represent the majority of our most severe cases — involving addiction, eating disorders, child sexual abuse and suicide — we experience firsthand the legal challenges of litigating cases against big tech, and the emotional challenges because the damage has already been done by the time we’re involved,” said lawyers Carrie Goldberg and Naomi Leeds of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC, a firm that litigates cases involving tech-induced injuries to children.

“The SAFE for Kids Act and the Children’s Data Protection Act are important because they aim to stop the damage to children by social media products before it’s done,” Goldberg and Leeds continued. “We thank Gov. Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic for their leadership on this issue. It’s high time these companies be compelled to create safe products for children, instead of seeing their youngest users as raw material to extract data from.”

The proposed laws underscore Attorney General James’ broader efforts to enforce online safety. Earlier this year, she led a coalition of attorneys general to defend federal oversight of online content and released comprehensive guidelines for businesses to safeguard user data.

As social media continues to permeate the daily lives of young Americans — 97% of teenagers report being online daily — the legislation aims to offer robust defenses against the array of risks they face online. 

“Our kids are in crisis, and the adults in the room need to step up,” Hochul said. “The statistics are extraordinarily disturbing: teen suicide rates are spiking, and diagnoses of anxiety and depression are surging. It’s critical we all stand together to address the youth mental health crisis, and I’m proud to partner with Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic to fight for our kids’ future.”


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