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New York considers regulating what children see in social media feeds

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CAROLYN THOMPSON

New York lawmakers on Tuesday said they were finalizing legislation that would allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts curated by a platform’s algorithm, a move to rein in feeds that critics argue keep young users glued to their screens.

Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James have been advocating for the regulations since October, facing strong pushback from the tech industry. The amended version removes provisions that would have limited the hours a child could spend on a site. With the legislative session ending this week, Albany lawmakers are making a final push to get it passed.

“The algorithmic feeds are designed as dopamine for kids,” Assembly sponsor Nily Rozic, a Democrat, said Tuesday. “We are trying to regulate that design feature.”

The legislation in New York follows actions taken by other U.S. states to curb social media use among children. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning social media accounts for children under 14 and requiring parental permission for 14- and 15-year-olds. Utah in March revised its policies, requiring social media companies to verify the ages of their users, but removing a requirement that parents consent to their child creating an account. A state law in Arkansas that also would have required parental consent was put on hold last year by a federal judge.

Supporters say New York’s Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) For Kids Act, which would prohibit algorithm-fed content without “verifiable parental consent,” is aimed at protecting the mental health and development of young people by shielding them from features designed to keep them endlessly scrolling.

Instead of having automated algorithms suggest content classified as addictive and based on what a user has clicked on in the past, young account holders would see a chronological feed of content from users they already follow.

Rozic said the New York bill doesn’t attempt to regulate the content available on social media, only “the vehicle that supercharges the feed and makes it more addictive.”

Critics of the bill, including the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, warn it could make things worse for children, including leading to internet companies collecting more information about users.

“Lawmakers are legislating a fairy tale,” the privacy advocacy group’s executive director, Albert Fox Cahn, said in a statement. “There simply is no technology that can prove New Yorkers’ ages without undermining their privacy.”

The tech industry trade group NetChoice, whose members include Meta and X, accused New York of “trying to replace parents with government.”

“Additionally, this bill is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment by requiring websites to censor the ability of New Yorkers to read articles or make statements online, by blocking default access to websites without providing proof of ID and age, and by denying the editorial rights of webpages to display, organize, and promote content how they want,” Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel, said in an emailed statement.

The legislation also would prohibit sites from sending notifications to minors between midnight and 6 a.m. without parental consent.

Companies could be fined $5,000 per violation.

If passed by the Assembly and Senate, Hochul is expected to sign the bill and another regulating data collection into law after calling the legislation one of her top priorities.

“We stopped marketing tobacco to kids. We raised the drinking age. And today, we’re fighting to protect kids from the defining problem of our time,” Hochul wrote in an op-ed in the New York Post last week.

AP

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