Connecticut lawmakers are trying again this year to pass legislation requiring social media companies to get parental consent before allowing anyone 16 or younger to use their platforms.
The first version of this bill was introduced during the 2022 legislative session by Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell. It died despite receiving unanimous support from the Children’s Committee.
Unlike last session, the bill will go now to the General Law Committee. Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, the co-chair of the General Law Committee, said children’s issues should be a priority for everyone.
“I think it is a bipartisan issue in terms of everyone wants to protect our children and ensure that we are protecting their privacy,” he said.
Maroney said that while there are positives to social media, young people have also felt its negative effects.
“We also know we’ve seen the detrimental effects on the mental health of our students,” Maroney said. “While we can’t necessarily say social media has caused [mental health issues], there is a strong correlation between the rise of social media and the rise in anxiety among our students.”
Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R-East Granby, is sponsoring the legislation this session.
“People are trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that are set by social media,” Zawistowski said, adding that she believes social media can have a negative impact on young people’s body image, which can lead to serious health issues such as eating disorders.
Zawistowski said parents might support the legislation because they witnessed firsthand during the pandemic lockdowns how social media negatively affects their children.
“I think there’s a lot more focus on mental health this session, and there has been for a while,” she said. “I think that this [bill] comes right into line with that.”
There has been an increase in both the numbers of young people having mental health problems and the severity of those problems over the last few years.
There is already opposition to the legislation, however.
NetChoice, a coalition that represents numerous social media platforms and supports free, unrestricted usage of the internet, intends to fight the proposal.
“Essentially what this legislation purports to do is to turn over parenting of teenagers to the tech industry, and plaintiffs’ attorneys, rather than letting parents decide what’s best for their own children,” said Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel at NetChoice. “At the same time, it would actually require collection of the most sensitive and personal information about teenagers whenever they go around and access the internet.”
NetChoice sued California over legislation regarding online child privacy protection that passed last year. The law puts more restrictions on big tech companies to make sure they are appropriately taking steps to ensure children are seeing age-appropriate ads and other online services.
Szabo said the California legislation does not take into account that children mature at different ages. This can get complicated when big tech has to define what content is “age appropriate” for kids. He also said the legislation is an infringement on the First Amendment.
He said Connecticut should first “empower students and parents” by teaching them how to safely use social media, protect their privacy online and be good digital citizens.
“Any parent, myself included, who thinks that their teenager is not more tech savvy than they are is deluding themselves,” Szabo said. “That’s essentially what this legislation is trying to do. It’s trying to ignore the reality that there are plenty of 12-year-olds on social media even though it’s against the Terms of Service and the contracts.”
For instance, Utah lawmakers have proposed legislation requiring all minors to get parental consent before they sign up for any social media platform.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox said he supported the bill because of the negative effects social media has on children, comparing social media companies to manufacturers of opioids last month.
Sanchez said Utah lawmakers have defined social media in a very broad way, which could possibly ban children from using educational software.
“The way that they defined social media could be interpreted as a learning management system, like Canvas or Blackboard, that could potentially be wrapped up in this definition,” Sanchez said. “They defined it as a tool for communicating with a sufficient number of users.”
In Texas, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would ban all social media platforms for minors. The bill also states anyone signing up for an account must present a photo ID.