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New York State legislature restricts social media feeds for children to reduce harm

Settings page of a social media account
WAER file photo
New York State legislature votes to restrict content that can be pushed to children through social media algorithms.

There was a rare bipartisan vote in the state legislature on new rules to ban harmful algorithms in children’s social media feeds. Supporters, both Democrats and Republicans, say the change will help improve kids’ mental health.

State Senators burst into spontaneous applause as the bills passed by 60 to zero in the chamber.

The measures ban big tech companies from showing algorithmic feeds to children and teens under the age of 18. They also prohibit social media companies from overnight push notifications for addictive feeds, unless parents consent to the practice.

One of the bills further forbids the companies from collecting and selling children’s personal data online without parental permission.

Increased use of social media among children is linked to higher incidents of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Senate sponsor Andrew Gounardes, a democrat, says Big Tech makes an estimated $11 billion a year in profits through sites including Instagram and Tik Tok.

“Social media algorithms are heat seeking missiles designed to target a user's vulnerabilities and maximize user engagement at all costs,” Gounardes said.

He compared the lack of rules governing kids’ media feeds to companies like Meta and Google allowing children to ride in cars without seat belts.

“If big tech had their way, they would keep kids in speeding cars without seat belts,” he said. “But today, today we're going to act. Today we're putting seatbelts back in cars.”

Attorney General Letitia James applauded the passage of the measures.

“Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic,” said Attorney General James. “The legislation my team worked on and supported along with bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic will help address the addictive features that have made social media so insidious and anxiety-producing."

Senator Jack Martins, a republican, says he supports the bills, but wishes they had included even more parental controls.

“It's rare to see unanimity in this chamber on something as important as this, and I'm glad we are,” Martins said.

“But I would have liked to have seen more parental oversight when it comes to access to these accounts, overseeing them,” he continued. “Because one of the things we should rely on is family and the ability of family and parents to have access to those accounts, monitor those accounts.”

The measures passed nearly unanimously in the Assembly, with only one vote in opposition to the algorithm ban. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, a GOP member, said he thought the fines imposed on the tech companies for violations of the law were too high.

The bills now go to Governor Kathy Hochul. The governor championed the measures, saying they were her highest priority for the end of the session.

She is expected to sign them.