NYC Parents to Lawmakers: Don't Fall for Big Tech's Lies, Protect Our Kids Online

Grieving and concerned New York City parents urge state lawmakers to take action and pass the SAFE for Kids Act before legislative session concludes

NEW YORK, NY (05/19/2024) (readMedia)-- On Sunday, NYC parents, teens, and advocates held a press conference urging state lawmakers to pass common sense regulations designed to make social media safer for kids before the end of this year's legislative session. Parents and advocates, including Common Sense Media and Mothers Against Media Addiction, are supporting the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act (SAFE For Kids Act) and the New York Child Data Protection Act and demanding accountability from Big Tech companies, notorious for maximizing their profits at the expense of their youngest users.

Listen to a recording of the event here.

Among the group of parents was NYC parent Norma Nazario, who lost her 15 year old son Zackery to subway surfing after social media platforms, like Tik Tok and Instagram popularized the dangerous activity. Since last year, the MTA has recorded at least five more suspected subway surfing deaths, all younger than 17 years old. In order to prevent the loss of other impressionable children on social media, Norma is advocating for the SAFE for Kids Act to protect other children and teens from addictive algorithms that too often bombard young users with content that keeps them scrolling online.

"Social media hurts the mental health of our young minds. It can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and delusion of grandeur when teens compare themselves to others. The pressure to maintain an online image can be overwhelming, which leads to insecurity and fear of missing out. My son Zackery developed these issues because of social media, and I couldn't imagine he would die by being influenced by subway surfing on social media platforms," said Norma Nazario. "Additionally, these companies are making money off tracking and selling the data of minors without their consent or their parents' consent.. Something needs to change now. New York parents just like me are calling for the SAFE for Kids Act and the NY Child Data Protection Act to address this crisis and, hopefully, save lives."

"As a mom of a young boy growing up in Brooklyn and as an advocate for online safety for children and teens, I will not rest until Albany passes these bills to protect New York kids online," said Liz Foley, senior director for advocacy campaigns at Common Sense Media. "Social media companies know about the harm they are causing to young people, but they refuse to change their ways. So, it is up to our leaders in the legislature to act, and it is up to parents and advocates like us to make sure they do."

Parents in New York, and across the country, are noticing an immediate hit to their childrens' mental health once they begin using social media, and countless studies confirm the correlation between prolonged use of social media and mental health issues. According to recent research, youth who spend more than three hours a day on social media (the average for overall Internet use is almost nine hours a day, not including time for homework) double their risk for depression and anxiety.

Despite endless studies demonstrating the increased rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm among children online, social media companies like Meta only invested in tools like addictive algorithms to keep youth online for longer. And these companies have a significant financial incentive to keep kids doom scrolling on their platforms. According to a report from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, social media platforms like Instagram and Tiktok collectively generated just short of $11 billion in ad revenue from users under 18 during 2022.

"As a mother to my 15 year old daughter, I have witnessed the negative effects that social media can have on our kids' mental health, and how quickly it can take effect. Once my daughter began using social media at age 13, I was shocked to see how quickly it affected her sense of self and confidence, impacting her mood and anxiety. I know there are many New York parents like me that do the best they can to keep their children safe online. But we can't fight these massive companies, with their profit incentives and thousands of employees, without strong safety protections in place. I support these bills because they would limit children's access to algorithm-driven feeds that are designed to keep them endlessly scrolling, and I urge the New York State legislature to pass both of these bills this session. We don't have time to wait," said Bernice Tsai.

"I founded MAMA to build a movement of parents and other concerned adults to fight back against social media addiction and free our children from the hidden algorithms that exploit their emotions for profit," said Julie Scelfo, Founder of Mothers Against Media Addiction (MAMA). "New York has the opportunity to lead the way in standing up to Big Tech's greed and abuse. Our lawmakers in Albany need to pass these bills before the end of the legislative session, and move one step closer to giving our children back the childhood they deserve."

"The evidence is clear: media addiction is fueling an unprecedented youth mental health crisis. It does not have to be this way. All of us – parents, grandparents, lawmakers and all concerned adults – can TAKE ACTION together and say: Enough is enough," said Alysia Reiner, activist and MAMA member. "The New York Child Data Protection Act and the SAFE Act both have bipartisan support in the legislature. We just need our elected officials to do their jobs and pass these bills immediately."


Bill #1: Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act

This SAFE for Kids Act will require social media companies to restrict the addictive features on their platforms that most harm young users. Currently, platforms supplement the content that users view from the accounts they follow by serving them additional content from accounts they do not follow or subscribe to. This content is curated using algorithms that gather and display content based on a variety of factors. However, algorithmic feeds have been shown to be addictive because they prioritize content that keeps users on the platform longer. Addictive feeds are correlated with an increase in the amount of time that teens and young adults spend on social media and significant negative mental health outcomes for minors.

To address this problem, the legislation will:

  • Ban social media platforms from offering addictive feeds to any persons under 18 without parental consent. Instead, users will receive a chronological feed of content from only the users that they already follow or feeds of generally popular content – the same way that social media feeds functioned before the advent of addictive feeds. Users may also search for specific topics of interest.
  • Prohibit social media platforms from sending notifications to minors from 12AM and 6AM without verifiable parental consent.
  • Allow users and parents to opt out of minors accessing social media platforms between the hours of 12AM and 6AM.
  • Authorize the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to bring an action to enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation. Allow any parent/guardian of a covered minor to sue for damages of up to $500 per user per incident, or actual damages, whichever is greater.

This legislation will only impact social media platforms with feeds comprised of user-generated content along with other material that the platform recommends to users based on data it collects from them. For example, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube would all be subject to this legislation.

Bill #2: The New York Child Data Protection Act

With few privacy protections in place for minors online, children are vulnerable to having their location and other personal data tracked and shared with third parties. To protect children's privacy, the New York Child Data Protection Act will prohibit all online sites from collecting, using, sharing, or selling personal data of anyone under the age of 18 for the purposes of advertising, unless they receive informed consent or unless doing so is strictly necessary for the purpose of the website. For users under 13, this informed consent must come from a parent. The bill authorizes the Office of the Attorney General to enforce the law and may enjoin, seek damages, or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.