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Social media protection bill for minors, their parents still idle

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J.J. Brannock

(The Center Square) – Social media age verification legislation introduced more than two months ago remains in a U.S. Senate committee.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, on April 26 introduced Protecting Kids on Social Media Act. The proposal would require social media users to verify their age in an effort to regulate how youth interact with the technology.

It remains in the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Cosponsors include Democrats Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, Peter Welch of Vermont, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Katie Boyd Britt of Alabama, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska.

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“Since most social media sites rely on self-reporting to verify age and do not require parental consent for minors to join, they are hunting grounds for predators to conceal themselves and prey on children without their parents’ knowledge,” Schatz wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, along with Cotton, Murphy and Britt.

The senators also expressed the rise in poor mental health among teens as a reason for the introduction of the bill.

If the legislation is put in place, no children under 13 will be permitted to use social media platforms. The exception is "as long as such viewing does not involve logging in or interacting with the content or other users," the bill says.

The legislation would also require that anyone under the age of 18 have “affirmative consent” from a parent or guardian to create an account.

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The bill does not require social media platforms to verify the age of existing users until two years after the legislation is enacted. New users would not be allowed to create an account without first verifying their age.

Social media platforms must also take “reasonable steps beyond merely requiring attestation,” needing to use some form of “age verification technology” to confirm the ages of individuals, such as uploading copies of government-issued identification.

Also included in the bill is the creation of the "Pilot Program," which would provide “a secure digital identification credential to individuals who are citizens […] at no cost to the individual.”

The data would not be disclosed to any entity without consent of the user, or if in connection with an investigation for fraud against the program, an oversight by an Inspector General, or a court order.

The bill would also prevent social media platforms from using the personal data of individuals under 18 to develop algorithmic recommendations. Recommendations and advertisements would only be permitted based on context related to the content viewed by the individual.

The legislation would take effect one year after its enactment.