A new bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate Wednesday would require social media companies to verify the age of users to keep kids under 13 from using their addictive platforms, sparking concerns by some who say it could become a ‘back door’ for the federal government and Big Tech to ‘spy’ on American children.
The legislation is being backed by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Katie Britt, R-Ala.
According to the senators, the bill is designed to ‘protect kids from the harmful impacts of social media’ and declining mental health nationwide by setting a minimum age for access to apps including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and others.
Schatz called the bill a ‘commonsense bipartisan approach’ to help with the ‘suffering’ of children during a press conference Wednesday.
The bill would prohibit all children under the age of 13 from gaining access to platforms, require social media companies to verify the age of consumers and require parental consent from parents for those in the 13-17 years of age bracket.
Sen. Britt, a mother of two young children, added the bill is simply setting up ‘guardrails’ for parents to be in the driver’s seat
Sen. Cotton told reporters that for ‘too long’ Big Tech has ‘exposed our kids to dangerous content and disturbed people
Cotton told reporters that for ‘too long’ Big Tech has ‘exposed our kids to dangerous content and disturbed people. Moms and dads have felt helpless while their kids suffer, sometimes leading to devastating tragedies.’
The senator from Arkansas called the bill a ‘giant step’ toward fixing that problem by putting ‘parents back in control’ while also sending a strong message to social media companies – that they have a ‘duty to help keep kids safe and parents informed’ or else face ‘serious consequences.’
Despite the bipartisan backing, the legislation is being scrutinized by some for potentially allowing for the Biden administration to start gathering large amounts of information on American children.
One congressional aide told DailMail.com that it is ‘extremely concerning’ that the bill will ‘create a back door between Big Tech and the federal government to spy on American families.’
‘It will allow the Biden administration to collect the personal, private information of children and their parents. This will legislation will create a massive, IRS-like, system where the federal government stores Americans information and it will almost certainly be leaked, as we’ve seen happen countless times with the IRS,’ the aide continued.
Cotton directly refuted those allegations Wednesday, telling reporters that the legislation would not allow tech companies to collect more private information.
‘In fact, it’ll prevent tech companies from collecting information on children under the age of 13, which they currently do through their extremely weak and easily avoided age verification attestation, so that’s the first case,’ Cotton said.
‘We will actually reduce the amount of information that have about America’s kids, because children under the age of 13 actually won’t be able to get on social media.’
‘Second, the idea that this isn’t going to allow any government or tech companies to collect more information than they currently do is completely false,’ Cotton continued.
The senator pointed out that all they will be asking for is a birth date – which many people put online anyway – and parent-child relationship, which is already held by ‘numerous government agencies’ at every level – local, state and federal.
Britt, a mother of two young children, added the bill is simply setting up ‘guardrails’ for parents to be in the driver’s seat and prevent overreach by Big Tech.
‘We all know obviously the benefits that can come from social media. We want our children to be able to connect and to explore. But we also want to make sure that that’s done within the proper review of the proper guardrails,’ said Britt.
The FTC and state attorneys general will be the ‘main mechanism’ on enforcement, Sen. Schatz told reporters
‘We don’t let minors sign contracts. We don’t let them open bank accounts. We don’t let them enlist in the military. We don’t let them drink alcohol or smoke tobacco without parental consent,’ Cotton continued.
‘If those standards exist in the real world, as they have for the ages. Why would we allow them to do those things or something like those things in the digital world?’
However, a number of House side lawmakers are also concerned with the language in the bill, DailyMail.com has learned, which could poise a problem if the Senate ends up moving the legislation forward.
‘If you’re not already on TikTok, Katie Britt and Tom Cotton’s legislation will be handing over your personal information to the CCP,’ the congressional aide argued.
‘We know this will happen because China’s National Security Law requires companies to hand over any and all information demanded by Beijing.’
Group ‘Design It For Us’ also put out a statement, saying the lawmakers’ bill ‘misses the mark.’
‘We believe that any legislation addressing harm on social media should put the onus on companies to make their platforms safer, instead of preventing kids and teens from being on platforms at all,’ said Co-Chair Zamaan Qureshi.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general will be the ‘main mechanism’ on enforcement, Schatz told reporters.
But it was not immediately clear how social media companies will verify age, or what additional enforcement mechanisms will be set in place to ensure enforcement.
‘We have not shopped this with social media companies yet,’ Democratic Sen. Schatz added.
Britt is hopeful that the bill will successfully prevent Big Tech from ‘preying on the emotions’ of American kids.
Another already-introduced bill led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the Kids Online Safety Act, will go hand-in-hand with the legislation, the senators insisted.
The bill has guardrails in place to hold social media companies to account including additional information protecting features, ability to opt-out of certain algorithms and parental controls.