Sen Gounardes Dares Big Tech to Defend Addictive Algorithms

"I dare Big Tech to defend why anyone -- LGBTQ+ kids, immigrant teens, or otherwise -- need addictive algorithms"; New Big Tech-backed coalition advocates to keep addictive algorithms in order to protect profits

ALBANY, NY (02/06/2024) (readMedia)-- Like clockwork, the Big Tech-backed 'New York Inclusive Internet Coalition' is busy misleading New Yorkers, distorting the true intent of the SAFE for Kids Act, which aims to prohibit social media companies from utilizing addictive algorithms on users under the age of 18. Citing Meta funded 'science," the coalition contradicts the U.S. Surgeon General, dozens of additional studies, and the firsthand experience of millions of concerned parents who recognize the harm additive algorithms are causing kids online. While New York lawmakers and concerned parents alike are advocating for common sense legislation to protect kids online from addictive feeds that keep them doom scrolling, companies like Meta are profiting immensely with a staggering $11 billion in ad revenue from underage users alone in 2022.

Using recycled Big Tech talking points, the coalition falsely claims restricting addictive algorithms will prevent marginalized children from finding community online. However, the SAFE for Kids Act would not prevent minors from searching for content, following accounts, or joining groups of their choice. The legislation simply protects young users from being fed content they did not ask for that is purposely designed to keep them online for extended periods of time.

Click here for more information on Senator Gounardes' social media legislation.

"I dare Big Tech to defend why anyone -- LGBTQ+ kids, immigrant teens, or otherwise -- need addictive algorithms. They can't because no one does, except the social media companies getting rich off the backs of our kids doom scrolling. The fact is my bill does nothing to limit kids' ability to search for content or find community – concerns that the Big tech-backed coalition claim to care about. What it does is protect kids from getting force fed content they don't want that's designed to keep them online longer, and that's making them miserable. Don't believe the deep fake: until anyone can explain to me why addictive algorithms are necessary, I'll keep fighting for New York families," said State Senator Andrew Gounardes.

"Common Sense Media, the nation's leading children's advocacy organization with 20 years of experience fighting for the well-being of all children and teens in the digital age, and with a digital literacy and citizenship education program throughout New York public schools, strongly supports the SAFE for Kids Act. Nothing in this important bill restricts teens' access to content that they seek online, and nothing in this bill gives parents' new access to teens' accounts or information. The SAFE for Kids Act is greatly warranted to support the mental health and educational needs of New York children and families. Make no mistake, despite wide-spread research on the contribution that social media platforms play in today's youth mental health crisis, the tech industry opposes nearly every single measure to protect kids online - because they make so much money off of keeping kids engaged on their platforms. The companies talk a good game but when it comes time to accept responsibility and be held accountable, they fight at every turn. New York kids and their families will be better off when the SAFE for Kids Act is signed into law later this year," said Danny Weiss, Chief Advocacy Officer, Common Sense Media.

Studies proving the causal connection between prolonged social media use and declining youth mental health are endless, and New York parents are noticing the immediate hit to their teens' mental health. According to recent research, half of teens say social media makes them feel worse about their body image, social media use leads to disrupted sleep cycles, and 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. Social media usage has such a negative effect on youth mental health, in fact, that the US Surgeon General issued an advisory in May declaring it unsafe for kids. This is the leading national spokesperson on matters of public health, begging policy intervention.


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.- but not any social media platform that doesn't purposefully choose to set an algorithmic feed by default.

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.