Children shouldn’t be allowed on social media until age 16, argues Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who plans that and other legislation to protect kids from the documented hazards of Big Tech.
“I think we ought to set a threshold of 16 years old for kids to get on social media, and make the social media companies validate it and verify it,” Hawley told The Heartlander in an interview. “Just as a parent myself, it would be a tremendous help to know your kids can’t even get on social media until they’re 16.”
Hawley also plans legislation to give parents “a right to demand that tech companies delete their kids’ data, and commissioning a wide-ranging congressional mental-health study on the impact social media has on children.”
“We know from the studies that the social media companies have done that those platforms are bad for kids,” Hawley says. “They’re bad for their mental health. They’re bad for their self-image and self-awareness, and particularly when the kids are young. So, let’s give some power to parents.
“We should also give parents the ability to delete their kids’ data from the social media companies. Every parent should be able to go to these companies and say, ‘Give me all the information you have on my kids and delete it once and for all.’”
Most social media platforms have a minimum age of 13, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “But in a recent poll,” the clinic writes, “parents shared that 50% of children 10 to 12 years old and 33% of children 7 to 9 years old use social media apps.”
At least one study, the Cleveland Clinic warns, says “children younger than 11 years old who use Instagram and Snapchat are more likely to have problematic digital behaviors like having online-only friends and visiting sites parents would disapprove of, as well as a greater chance of taking part in online harassment. … Another study talks about how children who use Tik Tok are developing tics and having tic-like attacks. They’re experiencing a movement disorder brought on by stress and anxiety — presumably made worse by the pandemic and teens’ increased social media consumption.”
Hawley told NBC News that he hopes his efforts attract support from Democrats.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Democrats across the aisle and over the years about this topic generally and about different pieces of this,” Hawley told NBC. “I don’t see this as a partisan issue. I mean, this is about protecting kids from the irresponsible and rapacious Big Tech companies. Every parent in America, whatever your political persuasion, or if you have none, can agree with that.”
As NBC noted, President Biden last year signed into law Hawley’s bill to ban Chinese-owned platform Tik Tok from federal government devices. And Biden even published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling on bipartisan support to protect kids from social media.
“Millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, and mental health. We must hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” Biden wrote. “There will be many policy issues we disagree on in the new Congress, but bipartisan proposals to protect our privacy and our children; to prevent discrimination, sexual exploitation, and cyberstalking; and to tackle anticompetitive conduct shouldn’t separate us.”
Hawley agrees, and is planning to take the lead in such an effort in the months to come.
“I would hope that we’d be able to get that accomplished,” he told The Heartlander.