The Minnesota house committee has put forth a bill that will prohibit social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram from using algorithms to target children.
Bill HF 3724, which is sponsored by state Rep. Kristin Robbins, said in the house commerce finance and policy committee meeting on Tuesday that the U.S. government’s federal Child Internet Protection Act is insufficient as it does not cover social media platforms.
Under the existing law, schools and libraries are required to educate minors on appropriate online behaviour, including interactions on social networking websites, but it does not prohibit social media companies from targeting children with advertisements or content aimed at their interests.
Tech industry representatives fired back at the bill, stating it would not be helpful for protecting children — and that it would also be in violation of companies’ First Amendment rights.
NetChoice policy counsel Jennifer Huddleston said in committee that the bill would violate the First Amendment, citing Supreme Court decisions on Sorrell v IMS and Ashcroft v ACLU. She said it would also create a false sense of security for parents, deterring conversations with children about consuming media wisely.
Adam Kovacevich, CEO and founder of center-left association Chamber of Progress, said online platforms use algorithms to prioritize healthy content and deprioritize unhealthy content so the bill would make the situation worse for teenagers.
He said YouTube Kids uses algorithms and manual curation to surface content appropriate for children and Twitter’s algorithms to help prioritize users find relevant content. Without algorithms, teenagers would be unable to see tailored news on topics they’re interested in, he said.
Some social media companies have seen the writing on the wall, with Meta Platforms-owned Instagram claiming in 2021 that it would be stricter on content control settings for teenagers who use its platform. Kovacevich said that the bill will break their tools, which rely on algorithms to weed out upsetting content.
Kovacevich pointed out that Instagram has begun steering kids away from content that glorified eating disorders, directing them toward support resources.
Committee chair Rep. Zack Stephenson argued that tech companies did not send their own representatives at the meeting because they are unable to face public scrutiny.
“This hearing, I think, in not too long a time … will look the same way to the public that hearings back in the ‘70s or ‘80s might have looked when you had trade groups coming forward talking about how they had funded studies showing that cigarettes just weren’t really that bad for your health. These companies are doing immense damage to our communities and to our children,” he said. “And as a father of two young children myself, I am very determined to see that we take some corrective action before it is too late on these issues.”