New York is considering regulating what kids see on social media.

On June 4, New York legislators announced that they were finalising legislation to allow parents to prevent their children from receiving social media posts that are curated by an algorithm. This is a measure to curb feeds which critics claim keep young users glued their screens.

Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia Jam and others have been pushing for regulations since October despite strong opposition from the tech industry. The amended version eliminates provisions which would have limited how long a child can spend on a website. Albany legislators are putting in a last-minute push for the bill to be passed as the legislative session ends this week.

Nily Rozic (Democrat) said that the algorithmic feeds were designed to be dopamine for children. “We’re trying to regulate this design feature.”

New York’s legislation follows other US states that have taken steps to limit social media usage among children. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation that prohibits social media accounts for under-14-year-olds and requires parental consent for 14-15-year-olds. Utah revised its policy in March, requiring that social media companies verify the age of their users. However, it removed a requirement for parents to consent to their child opening an account. Last year, a federal court halted a state law in Arkansas which would have also required parental consent.

Supporters claim that New York’s Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act (SAFE), which would ban algorithm-fed content without a “verifiable parent consent”, is aimed to protect the mental health of young people and their development by shielding them against features designed keep them scrolling endlessly.

In place of automated algorithms that suggest addictive content based on the content a user clicked on previously, users with young accounts would be shown a chronological stream of content from other users.

Rozic stated that the New York law does not attempt to regulate social media content, but only “the vehicle which supercharges and makes the feed more addictive.”

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and other critics of the bill warn that it could worsen things for children by allowing internet companies to collect more information about their users.

Albert Fox Cahn said, “Lawmakers are legislating an absurd fairy tale,” in a press release. There is simply no technology to prove New Yorkers’ ages without compromising their privacy.

NetChoice – a trade group for the tech industry – whose members included Meta and X – accused New York City of “trying” to “replace parents with government.”

“This bill is also unconstitutional, because it violates First Amendment rights by requiring that websites censor New Yorkers’ ability to read articles and make statements online. It does this by blocking access by default to websites, without requiring proof of age and ID, and by denying webpages their editorial right to display, organise, and promote the content they choose,” Carl Szabo said in an email statement.

It would also prohibit websites from sending minors notifications between midnight and six a.m., without parental consent.

Businesses could face fines of up to US$5,000 (RM23.506) for each violation.

Hochul, who has called the legislation a top priority of hers, is expected to sign both the data collection bill and the Assembly’s bill into law if they are passed.

We stopped selling tobacco to children. We raised the age of drinking. Hochul wrote an op ed last week in the New York Post in which he argued that we must protect children from the “defining problem of our age”. – AP

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