Protecting young kids from social media

Long is the list of things that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has gotten wrong, from guns to immigration to abortion to nonsense culture war salvos compromising academic freedom in the name of protecting it. We pause here to appreciate the spirit of his effort but not the method to safeguard children from online harms as social media gets its hooks in ever more kids.

DeSantis last week signed a bill that effectively prohibits kids 13 and younger from having social media accounts on platforms like Instagram and TikTok and requires the platforms to get parental consent before letting 14- and 15-year-olds use their services.


There’s no question in the minds of most American parents and many American teenagers that endless scrolling and approval-seeking are unhealthy for millions of fragile young psyches. Social media platforms can do some real good, connecting people with shared interests and spreading information and sparking creativity, but we’re convinced that there’s an age below which its risks consistently outweigh its benefits.

But the need for government to act doesn’t settle the question of what ought to be done.

The first question is constitutionality in a country with robust free speech protections reinforced through many generations of case law. While most age restrictions on harmful content — ratings on video games and movies and the like —have been industry-led, government can and sometimes does prohibit access to expressive materials, provided the laws are carefully tailored.

But that’s a high bar to clear: Already, a federal judge blocked an Ohio law very similar to Florida’s, writing, “Foreclosing minors under 16 from accessing all content on websites that the Act purports to cover, absent affirmative parental consent, is a breathtakingly blunt instrument for reducing social media’s harm to children.”

The next question is who ought to act. The internet is global, and if 50 states develop 50 solutions to the problems, it’ll be burdensome on companies that deserve some clarity and predictability. Sensible federal laws are far preferable to state-by-state regulations, which is why we support the passage of the Kids Online Safety Act in Washington.

Hypocrisy is also a problem. DeSantis, remember, is also a governor who wants to lower the current legal age for the purchasing of rifles and shotguns from 21 to 18— meaning, he wants to simultaneously be more protective of teenagers when it comes to videos and online bullies and less protective when it comes to very real threats of physical harm.

Finally, there’s good reason to worry that strict bans might risk people’s privacy by requiring the widespread collection by these companies of government IDs, face scans and the like. By gathering such information to protect young people, the very same young people could wind up at risk.

Social media is a real problem for teenagers. Those who liken today’s so-called panic to previous attempts to limit access to TV or video games fail to appreciate the many ways the ubiquity and sophistication of TikTok, Instagram and the like — which nearly a fifth of teenagers say they use “almost constantly”— are making kids lonelier and less happy.

But not all government interventions are created equal. Florida’s well-intentioned law won’t work. Pass a strong federal statute first and see how the federal courts react

— NY Daily News/TNS

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